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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.’
26 Apr 2009
Wolf-Ferrari: La vedova scaltra (“The Cunning Widow”).
One of the five operas Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) based on plays by Carlo Goldoni, La vedova scaltra (1748) is a comedy about a widow’s decision to use deception to choose among her suitors.
With the men representing four countries of Western Europe, England, France, Spain, and Italy, the situation lends itself well to manipulating national elements within this Italian opera which uses, at times, Venetian dialect, that is, the idiom in which the composer was raised. The national element is also a foil for the libretto, which plays upon some cultural jibes in its cynical view of romantic love. Among Wolf-Ferrari’s thirteen operas, La vedova scaltra is not known as well as Il segreto Susanna (1909) or I gioielli della Madonna (1911; rather, it dates from 1931 and is the work he wrote immediately after his Shakespeare-based opera Sly (1927). With its conversational style, La vedova scaltra is not immediately as accessible as some of the composer’s earlier works, but the motives and themes gradually build as the drama itself takes shape and leads to its conclusion. The details contribute to the satisfying - and appropriate - ending of the opera, and this recording makes it possible to appreciate the work in this regard.
This production of the opera, filmed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 13 and 15 February 2007 under the direction of Davide Mancini, makes use of eighteenth-century costumes and accoutrements to reflect the setting from Goldoni’s play. This gives a familiar sense to Wolf-Ferrari’s work, and this supports the score, which is anchored in conventional tonality, albeit with the kinds of dissonance found in his other operas. More than that, the self-conscious use of operatic convention contributes some post-modern aspects to the work, as does the inclusion of the character of Arlecchino, a servant who acts as an intermediary throughout the drama. The inclusion of this one figure from the traditional *commedia del’arte *pays homage to the theatrical traditional and also brings to mind the depictions of the character in other twentieth operas. Wolf-Ferrari’s is no mere copy of the others, and his Arlecchino stands out in the portrayal by Alex Esposito through his vocal abilities and his sense of physical comedy.
As Rosaura, the cunning widow of the title, Anne-Lise Sollied is vocally solid and dramatically convincing. Appropriate to her character, Sollied shows Rosaura to be aware of the consequences of her romantic choices, and her own concerns for mutual affection and fidelity. Sollied’s fine command of line and ornament is evident in her first, scene, the one in which she discusses marital prospects with her French maid Marionette. The duet with which the scene ends is a good example of the genial interaction with Elena Rossi, who plays the maid with the sensibility one would expect of Despina in Mozart’s Così fan tutte. Rossi shows her own vocal and dramatic skills well in the ensuing duet with Emanuelle D’Aguanno as Monsieur Le Bleu, the French suitor, who just happens to be Marionette’s countryman and thus, the preferred candidate for her mistress’s hand. Rossi is appropriately disarming in the ensemble at the end of the first act, the scene in which the Spanish suitor arrives with his entourage by gondola.
The entire cast works well with each other within the series of ensembles at the core of each act of the opera. The relationship between Rosaura and her maid Marionette resembles, at times, the one between the Countess and Susanna in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Her engagement in the drama is direct, since she will be affected by the consequences of her mistress’s decision. Likewise, Rosaura is at first overtly equivocal about her prospects, and if it is fidelity which she values, the ruse she concocts to test the lovers is necessary for her to choose. Her Rosaura is an affable spirit, and most of all, sung comfortably and with appropriate style. She works well throughout the opera and is fittingly commanding in the concluding scene.
Among the suitors, the Conte di Bosco Nero whom Rosaura ultimately chooses, is sung well by the British tenor Mark Milhofer. His extended aria in the third scene of Act 2 “Quanta soave pace” is a fine example of his contribution to this production, and his duet with Arlecchino as sung by Esposito shows both men to good effect. As to the other suitors, each brings a distinctive style to his character. While none of the suitors entirely meet Rosaura’s standards at the end of the opera, the same cannot be said of their performances, which contribute to this enjoyable work. Again, this production of La vedova scaltra brings to light an unfamiliar score by Wolf-Ferrari, and while it may never supplant the place of The Jewels of the Madonna *or *The Secret of Susanna, it augments our knowledge of the composer’s music. The comments at the London premiere of Wolf-Ferrari’s earlier opera I quattro rusteghi, another Goldoni adaptation, are apt for La vedova scaltra: “It flows spontaneously; it has a touch of distinction which saves it from the obvious; it is technically modern yet picks up the opera buffa tradition of the eighteenth century with the utmost grace and learning; it has a vein of lyrical melodic and excels in ensemble.”
Naxos makes the performance Wolf-Ferrari’s La vedova scaltra available both on CD (8.660225-26) and on DVD. The sound of the CD serves the work well, and the availability of the opera on DVD preserves the live production which was given at La Fenice - the recording was made before a live audience, and so it conveys a nice sense of spontaneity. The DVD is nicely filmed, with some well-thought close-ups and angles that take advantage of the lighting. On a practical level, the banding of the DVD is similar to that found on the CD and, as such, is useful in finding specific scenes and parts of scenes within each act. This helps to make the relatively unfamiliar score of La vedova scaltra more accessible to those who want to return to specific parts of the work. It is good to see the efforts of Naxos in presenting this opera so sensibly.
James L. Zychowicz