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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
26 Apr 2009
Walter Braunfels’s Die Vögel at Los Angeles Opera
The Recovered Voices series at Los Angeles Opera, in its second season, springs from James Conlon’s fascination and love for the operas of composers whose lives and/or careers came to an end under the Nazi regime.
Thanks to the support of Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation, Los Angeles Opera can bring to the stage operas otherwise unlikely to receive a production at a major house, although at one time most of the operas featured so far or planned for the series had that distinction. In fact, Walter Braunfels’s Die Vögel (The Birds) apparently enjoyed a fair amount of success before WWII threw a shadow over both the opera and its composer. Seen on Saturday, April 18th, that initial success and subsequent obscurity both became understandable.
An allegory adapted from Aristophanes’s play of the same title, Die Vögel begins with Good Hope (Brandon Johanovich) and Loyal Friend (James Johnson) on a search for Hoopoe, leader of the birds. The humans want to join the birds, finding their own species increasingly repugnant (an important aspect undramatized by the libretto). The birds, initially suspect, eventually accept the men, who then motivate the birds to establish a “bird civilization” in the clouds, to rival that of man’s below. This somehow upsets Zeus, as Prometheus warns the birds, to no avail. Zeus strikes the bird civilization with thunderbolts, and the men, realizing their complicity in the disaster, leave. Good Hope exits with a broken heart, however, as he had fallen in love with the Nightingale. There’s too little of Aristophanes’s stinging wit or satire, and most of the opera comes across as a feeble Magic Flute-wannabe, with Good Hope as an ersatz Tamino.
The first act, the shorter of the two, starts with some quite lovely music, including a vocalise for the Nightingale. However, the narrative’s lack of conflict or conventional development means that Braunfel’s score always seems to be excited or passionate about events that don’t warrant the emotional outpouring. The second act picks up the pace somewhat, and the last 30 minutes or so of the opera soars with the birds, as the humans wish to do. The intervention of Prometheus makes no sense, and probably isn’t intended to, but Brian Mulligan sang his set piece with dark gusto. After Zeus’s dramatic attack on the bird city, the birds gather on stage for a gorgeous ensemble, and as the men leave, the Nightingale, a high-lying role for coloratura, reappears, to sing as Good Hope takes his sad leave.
Conlon directed a fine cast, with Désirée Ranactore managing the challenging music of the Nightingale skillfully enough to make understandable Good Hope’s obsession with her. Martin Gantner as Hoopoe and James Johnson as Loyal Friend sang their thinly characterized parts well, but the star of the men was last year’s Richard Tucker winner, tenor Brandon Johanovich. His is a big, masculine sound, with an easy top at this young stage of his career. The opera world will probably be looking to have him sing some of the bigger tenor assignments. He already has a Turiddu and Cavaradossi or two under his belt. Hopefully he won’t be tempted to even larger roles, as his talent, if carefully nourished, should produce a long and rewarding career.
Darko Tresnjak, of the San Diego Old Globe Theater, directed this silliness probably as well as just about anyone could. Scenery designer David P. Gordon’s set oddly combined palm trees and a series of six or seven luminous cloud shapes, set up in three rows. The transformation to the bird city probably would have made more sense if it had been more than some tiny Greek temples affixed to stilts. Linda Cho’s costumes designs also seemed to go for a sort of silky Ancient Greek tunic look, except for the fairly contemporary look of the humans. As not a lot of sense was being made on stage, nonsense designs couldn’t hurt.
Braunfels’s score certainly received all the attention and love from James Conlon any conductor could lavish upon it. Despite the fine singing and superior orchestral performance, this run of Die Vögel hasn’t revealed a lost masterpiece. The afternoon had some delights, however, so opera lovers a bit jaded with the usual repertory have to be thankful for the exposure to a work of such rarity. Next season, the Recovered Voices series continues with Franz Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten.