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Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
22 May 2009
Don Carlos — Opera North, Leeds
Tim Albery’s production was first seen at Opera North in 1993 and has not been revived since 1998, when it was the first production of this opera I ever saw — an English-sung version of the four-act Italian version.
In the interests of context I would always favour five acts, not only for the background to Carlos’s meeting with Elisabeth, but for a fuller introduction to the character of Elisabeth who can be reduced almost to a cipher in the shorter version. But the four-act version is the tauter piece, and in the right hands has the potential to create the greater dramatic impact.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth
Hildegard Bechtler’s sets are austere and claustrophobic, the stage dominated by vast stone walls; even the sun-filled garden outside the cloister is hemmed in and inescapable. When the stage is dark, it is really dark: in the opening and closing scenes at San Giuste, there are times when unmoving figures are barely discernible. A pale grey curtain with a square aperture allows every scene to begin with a framed ‘thumbnail’, a trick which proves effective in clarifying and distilling each dramatic situation. Although the frequent and prolonged scene changes (the vast walls take some time to reconfigure) break up the pace somewhat, the intensity of each scene was such that I welcomed the opportunity to recover. Nothing here is empty spectacle - it is all cleanly focused, and there is no fat on the bones.
There was one particular bone upon which a little more fat would have been welcome. While the theatre’s superb acoustic enhances the volume of the orchestra and soloists, the start of the auto-da-fé scene should be a grand ensemble, and Opera North’s chorus simply sounded as if they would have benefited from a few more extras.
Julian Gavin sang the title role in the 1998 revival, and 11 years on he is no less credible as the young prince. His voice still has that urgent quality which captures Carlos’s angst, but now it’s combined with an open-throated evenness of tone which is really exciting to listen to.
From the start, Brindley Sherratt’s Philip II always seems rather cowed by the burden of responsibility, pale-faced and worn in the plain black costume which makes him look rather small and all too human. His dryish bass, too, captures well a disillusioned monarch who is comparatively easily overcome by the Grand Inquisitor - Clive Bayley, another returner from the 1998 revival, doesn’t really have the deep bass weight one might ideally wish for, but he projects real menace in his bearing.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth [left] and Jane Dutton as Eboli [right]
In her company debut, Janice Watson was a graceful and dignified Elisabeth. Not a natural Verdian, she sang very beautifully up until the last act, but was running out of steam during her aria and struggled to maintain the line in her subsequent duet with Carlos. William Dazeley was hugely impressive as Posa - he is unquestionably slightly on the light side, but he has an intelligent command of the music and is entirely convincing in this role which is so central to the opera. Jane Dutton’s Eboli was alluring and magnetic, with visceral power in ‘O don fatale’.
William Dazeley as Rodrigo [left] and Julian Gavin as Don Carlos [right]
Particularly impressive among the smaller roles was the monk of Robert Winslade Anderson, a dark-toned and focussed young bass who is surely a Philip-in-waiting. Julia Sporsén was a pert and courtly Thibault, and chorus member Kathryn McGuckin was a lyrical and secure Voice from Heaven, standing in for Rebecca Ryan (who, thanks to a visa problem, was stuck on the other side of the world).
Brindley Sherratt at King Philip II [left] and Clive Bayley as The Grand Inquisitor [right]
Conductor Richard Farnes really has the measure of the piece, throwing the score’s many bursts of passion or urgency into relief against the measured pace of the more intimate moments of intrigue. The word-setting in Andrew Porter’s superior translation is intelligent and natural-sounding, and it is delivered with clarity by every member of the cast. A recording is imminent in the Chandos Opera in English series, with most of the same performers; a welcome opportunity to keep for posterity a performance which presents as strong an argument for Verdi in English as we are ever likely to hear.
Ruth Elleson © 2009