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Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
07 Apr 2009
Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the MET
The current revival of Cav and Pag at the Met went off like clockwork, with all the comfort and reliability that implies for a repertory house and all the success these tried and true verismo stalwarts merit.
No one was under par but there were very few surprises, few thrills or
chills. But each opera did conceal one surprise — one shock — one
small but significant vocal revelation — that made the evening other than
The spotlight on the curtain just before it rose on Franco
Zeffirelli’s almost too-accurate Sicilian mountain village drew from us
soft gasps of alarm, but it was just an announcement that José Cura, though
suffering from a cold, would be singing both leading tenor roles in any case.
(Domingo, his mentor, used to make such announcements all the time in the
’70s.) In the event, his opening serenade did indeed sound labored
— but when was the last time you heard any tenor, even in the pink of
health, sing that aria of sated love with an easy, leggiero line? For the rest
of the night he was fine, a bit gruff — as he usually is — and with
no ringing at the top, which some might miss. It’s a perfectly decent way
to put these parts over. Gigli fans will mourn, but he’s been dead a long
Ildikó Komlósi as Santuzza and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
I was interested in the ladies of the evening. Ildikó Komlósi sang the most
mellow-sounding Herodias of my experience last fall — no
eldritch screamer but a chic, handsome hostess having trouble controlling her
adolescent daughter — and I wondered how that enjoyable take on Strauss
would translate to Mascagni’s tormented peasant. Komlósi is a fine
actress, and hurled herself about the story and the stage, but her essentially
lyric instrument (though she also sings Amneris and Eboli, which call for
power) did not at first warm to its task, to the expression of desperation
— Santuzza is always on the verge of hysteria, she says nothing calmly,
she opens her mouth and her whole anguished life is in her utterances.
Komlósi’s beautiful voice and Germanic (okay, Hungarian) vibrato are
pleasing, but she did not become intense until the duets with Cura and Alberto
Mastromarino’s dry, not very threatening Alfio pushed her to forget
herself and go wild. Santuzza has tripped up many experienced singers; I did
not feel she had it quite down, but she is a voice and an artist of
No part is too small for Jane Bunnell to make it interesting — on such
character performers do repertory companies rely, and her dignified Mamma Lucia
was a pleasure. But then out came Lola, a youngster from the Met’s
Lindemann Young Artists’s Program, one Ginger Costa Jackson, tall, slim,
very pretty, a bit too whorish about the sashay (an error made by too many
Lolas — she’s a respectable wife in a prudish small town, and no
one but Santuzza suspects she’s anything else), but — the voice! No
light mezzo here (as one is used to), but a deep, penetrating, perfectly
produced contralto with exciting colors. She would make quite an effect in a
range of Handel roles, trouser or otherwise.
Jane Bunnell as Mamma Lucia and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
The lady in Pagliacci — there’s only one, remember
— was Nuccia Focile, a charming soubrette in the past (an adorable
Despina in Cosí fan tutte), who sang a mediocre Nedda, the voice
unsupported, the coloratura imprecise in both “Stridono lassu” and
the play-within-the-play. The only time she rose to the demands of this
curious, death-defying figure was during her impassioned love duet with Silvio
— and here was the evening’s second surprise: Christopher Maltman.
This striking and sexy British baritone, a noted lieder singer as well as a
Billy Budd and a specialist in Mozart roles, filled the house with an easy,
dark, focused, thrilling baritone and was an equally thrilling actor. Too, he
sang with the most perfect Italian enunciation of the night. This is a voice
with star quality and a rare musical intelligence, a singer one is eager to
hear again in a dozen roles or in recital. Beside him, Cura and Mastromarino,
the evening’s Canio and Tonio, sounded effective but ordinary —
they wrung no sobs from me.
Pietro Rizzo had a firm hand on the dramatic flow of the evening in the pit;
the resonant celli seemed especially to flower, and I clearly heard echoes of
Wagner in Pagliacci, whenever Tonio was conniving. The Zeffirelli
staging with all its animals and all its children and all its gradual dawn and
sunset lighting changes and all its clowning extras gives audiences a notion of
what grand opera used to be about, and why young directors have been so eager
to change it. A ringing Canio, a gutsy Santuzza and a real Nedda would make it