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“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
01 Apr 2009
Handel & Purcell on Special Offer at Covent Garden
If combining the anniversaries of both Purcell and Handel in one production at the Royal Opera was something of a master-stroke, then getting the Royal Ballet in on the act must have seemed to be verging on the brilliant from a commercial point of view.
There are plenty of die-hard Handelians in London, a
lesser number (we may presume) of passionate Purcellians, and undoubtedly
droves of those devoted to the dance — so one can only imagine the glee
with which this project was seized upon in the board rooms of Covent Garden.
With Dido running to just sixty minutes and Acis to ninety,
together they made up a most satisfying sandwich of English baroque music at
its most melodious.
Royal Ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor had already shown his work with
Dido & Aeneas at La Scala in 2006, so it was only the direction
and dance elements for Acis & Galatea that were actually new on
the 31st March, and he had a starry cast of singers to work on both
productions, as well as his colleagues from the Ballet. In the event there were
disappointments as well as delights on the vocal front, and not a little
puzzlement regarding the dance.
In Purcell’s Dido, Connolly’s technical assurance,
(this role’s tessitura seems to suit ideally) and her total psychological
immersion in the role gained from her recent performances and recording, should
have enabled her to delineate every nuance of the doomed Queen’s journey
from delight in her new love to the final, cathartic acceptance of his
betrayal. However, an announced indisposition (a throat infection) prevented
her from fully realising the role in a way that might have been expected. She
struggled to colour and project in the first Acts, and only managed to give us
a glimpse of what might have been in the final, celebrated “When I am
laid in earth…” A full recovery in time for the succeeding dates
is to be sincerely wished.
Lucas Meacham, baritone, as the perfidious Aeneas, managed to convey some of
the vacillating aspects of his character, but his effortful singing and lack of
period style was noticeable. In stark and welcome contrast was the stylish,
agile soprano of Lucy Crowe who gave us a youthfully-blooming and bell-like
Belinda which promises much for the later classical repertoire as well as
further major Handelian roles. This dramatically rather ambiguous
character’s music was delivered with intelligence. The lesser roles were
again variable: Sara Fulgoni mangled the vowels of the Sorceress to a degree
that really isn’t on with Purcell at this venue (she sang in the La Scala
production where one assumes it wasn’t noticed so much) and didn’t
convince as the evil manipulator of the whole drama. Her young witches Eri
Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza sang brightly with better diction, but were
costumed as if just off a London catwalk. Far too nice. Young English
countertenor Iestyn Davies was a welcome newcomer to ROH, singing his twelve
bars as the Spirit from off-stage somewhere, but with clean attack, good
full-throated projection and clear diction. Anita Watson sang the one aria of
the Second Woman and Ji-Min Park the Sailor’s; the latter with
commendable style and tone. Throughout, the Chorus was excellent in both
diction and ensemble and their essential role in this drama was not only
underlined but showcased in an entirely proper way.
Sara Fulgoni as Sorceress & Eri Nakamura as First Witch & Pumeza Matshikiza as Second Witch
Seeing the added choreography for the first time neither added nor
particularly detracted from the whole — the dancers seemed to be
colouring-in the musical interludes and choruses rather than saying anything
very much new about the drama. The classical, spare set worked well and gave
all performers room to move and lighting filled in the nuances of the drama.
Less convincing were the choreographic elements of Wayne McGregor’s
handling of Handel’s Acis. McGregor has, he says, tried to not
just mirror the action of this pastoral masque, (or serenata), but to try to
access the “meanings” of the drama through the use of dance-imagery
— his famously angular patterns trying to elucidate the tensions between
the “present” reality of the drama and a more fragile emotional
reality. Each singer had either a single or couple of dancers (in as-naked
body-stockings) as their alter-egos and it was necessary to accept this extra
dimension to the operatic experience if one was to gain such insight. This
writer couldn’t, but others may.
Danielle de Niese as Galatea & Charles Workman as Acis
It was good to see Charles Workman back on an English stage in the title
role. His Handel, up to now, has been limited to just four roles as he’s
been in demand on the continent for his Rossini and Mozart, but on this showing
we might expect to see more of him here. Acis lies high in the lyrical
tenor’s range, and Workman was indeed working hard from time to time, but
his elegance of phrasing and good line in such deceptively difficult arias as
“Love in her eyes sits playing…” was a delight. Even more
noticeable, and welcome, was his ability to combine Handelian style with plenty
of vocal power; his full and ringing tone was a highlight of the whole
evening’s double bill and he also received the only spontaneous post-aria
applause after a sterling “Love sounds th’alarm”. Matching
him in the style stakes, if not the dynamics, was the veteran period performer
Paul Agnew who wove lovely phrases around Damon’s bewitchingly melodic
Ji-Min Park as Coridon, Lauren Cuthbertson as Galatea and Paul Kay as Coridon
Workman’s fellow American, the glamorous Danielle de Niese, has built
up a considerable (would it be churlish to suggest mainly male?) following in
Handel in recent years. But Galatea is no Cleopatra, and de Niese was called
upon to realise a very different heroine here. Curiously decked out in black
and white, with a bright red scarf and peroxide blonde wig with plaits, she
looked like a particularly exotic Heidi and occasionally acted like one. Her
soprano is well schooled and flexible and in her middle range she approaches a
really beautiful tone. Her carefully prepared trills and ornaments were
beautifully placed and “As when the dove….” was prettily
sung, but a hardness creeps in when she goes high above the staff. This can
reduce the impact of such delicate and affecting arias as “Heart, the
seat of soft delight” which is a shame as this is what this role is all
Another throat-sufferer pre-announced was bass Matthew Rose as the giant
Polyphemus, who made his entrances along a curious but clever
“Giant’s Causeway” of mock-basaltic rocks. His singing was
not too badly affected and was rounded and smooth without any bark or growl.
Whether McGregor’s direction of him worked is debateable. He seemed
strangely awkward at times — and was required to walk off stage rather
tamely after a perfunctory killing of the noble Acis with a very small rock.
Ji-Min Park again sang — this time the one aria of Coridon — and
again showed a pleasing tone and style.
Matthew Rose as Polyphemus & Danielle de Niese as Galatea
Also repeating success, and if anything surpassing themselves, was the Royal
Opera Extra Chorus who had more acting to do and who sang with assurance and
relish. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under veteran Christopher
Hogwood presided at each “opera” — and after some initial
intonation variations they settled down to give a polished reading of both,
with Anthony Robson’s oboe particularly expressive and stylish. This
wasn’t a cutting-edge period performance, but then neither were the
productions. What Covent Garden’s first night full house certainly got
was value for money — whether it’s the way forward for such baroque
gems is another matter.
Sue Loder © 2009