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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
19 Apr 2009
John Mark Ainsley Sings Schubert at Jerwood Hall, London
Schubert’s music ‘suggests a rippling movement and by the side of the rippling a flowering: it has the variety and unsurprising naturalness of moving water and springing herb’ (Capell) and this same naturalness and sense of flowing ease are the very qualities which make John Mark Ainsley such a special interpreter of this composer.
Ainsley has been singing and recording Schubert for some 17 years now, and in place of the youthful ardour which characterized his early performances we now find a deeper, more subtle understanding, yet still with his distinctive tenderness and perfect balance between ‘Ton und Wort.’ His recent major successes on the operatic stage seem to have informed his interpretations to a very marked degree, especially in the more tempestuous songs.
This carefully designed programme had enough of the more ‘charming’ songs to please the casual listener, yet the finest singing (and playing) came in those set to the intense, melancholy poetry of Mayrhofer. ‘Atys’ is an unjustly neglected song, its fervid telling of the story of the youth driven to madness, castration and suicide by the goddess Cybele not exactly ideal material for lunchtime, but in this performance the ‘unergründlicher Schmerz’ was made real in singing replete with subtlety as well as fervour. ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ is one of Mayrhofer’s more serene lyrics, and Schubert’s exquisite setting of it drew from Ainsley the most perfect mezza-voce, secure legato line and sense of reverence for the music’s natural phrasing.
As a rule, I can live quite happily without tenors singing the likes of ‘Wilkommen und Abschied’ and ‘Auf der Bruck,’ but here we were treated to performances which concentrated much less on the hearty, ‘I—have—a jolly—horse’ aspects and much more on the dramatic narratives. The lines ‘Und Zärtlichkeit für mich—Ihr Götter! / Ich hofft’ es, ich verdient’ es nicht!’ (Tenderness, for me? Ye Gods! I hoped for that, but didn’t deserve it!’) in the former were sung with the kind of heartfelt openness which always endears a singer to an audience, and in the latter the intensity of the ride was finely assuaged with a last line in which the phrase ‘süsses Ahnen’ was given just enough intensity to make it moving, but without any false swagger or artifice. Roger Vignoles played the rapid chords as though they were the easiest music ever composed.
‘Die Sterne’ was for me the high point of the recital, with such perfect legato line, such sensitivity to the words and such, for want of a better term, ‘Innigkeit,’ that it’s hard to imagine a better performance of this wonderful song. We came back to Mayrhofer again for the encore, with ‘Erlafsee’ an ideal choice to close a programme so finely balanced between ‘wohl’ and ‘weh.’ This first in a series of Schubert recitals will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday May 12th at 1.00, with the remaining recitals performed on Thursdays April 23rd and 30th and May 7th.