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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 May 2009
Haydn’s “Il Ritorno Di Tobia” , Oratorio Or Opera Seria?
Joseph Haydn's place in the history of the oratorio has been secured by his masterpieces The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). His first appearance, however, on the Mount Parnassus of oratorio was a good quarter of a century beforehand with Il ritorno di Tobia.
Recently performed at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (May 16-19) with an all star cast as a part of the celebration for the bicentenary of Haydn’s death. It is also the indication of revival of a nearly forgotten masterpiece: a few months ago Il ritorno di Tobia had been performed in London and Poissy under the baton of Sir Roger Norrington.
Il ritorno di Tobia had had a promising start: in April 1775 Haydn directed the first two performances of his work, written for the Vienna Tonkünstler-Societät. This success was no mere accident: Haydn had tailored his first oratorio as much as possible to suit Viennese taste. At this time Vienna was, to a certain extent, the bastion of the Italian oratorio north of the Alps. An Italian libretto was therefore indispensable, and for his subject matter, Haydn had chosen an exceptionally popular story: in the XVIII century, the Old Testament Book of Tobias was found everywhere, in painting, sculpture, literature and music; in Vienna alone it had been set to music dozens of times. Oratorios were performed in theatres because , during Lent, opera performances were forbidden; from the Playbills of the time we know that tickets for Il ritorno di Tobia were as high as those for a major opera seria performance. There was also some politics: the main theme of Il ritorno is conjugal love and parenthood; this would fit very well Empress Marie Thérèse’s view of the world- a world then rapidly changing , only a few years from Così fan tutte wives’ swapping and Marquis de Sade’s novels.
Within a short space of time copies of the score were circulating throughout Europe and Haydn himself counted the work among his most successful. It is also no surprise, however, that as early as 1781 a planned repeat performance in Vienna failed owing to the subsequent change in public taste; and besides this, as it took almost three hours to perform, the work was considered simply too long. Haydn, , was after all an experienced man of the theatre who had earned his stripes at the Esterházys’ opera house, and as such was perfectly capable of tackling the reworking of his Tobia in view of its difficulties. The parts of the Tonkünstler-Societät and Haydn’s autograph testify to this in a variety of ways: Haydn himself made alterations in a number of places in his score to passages of secco recitative, which, being accompanied only by the continuo instrument, allow the singer greater freedom in which to be creative. On the other hand, the orchestral material contains cuts in much of the extravagant coloratura, and also the repeated sections in the arias. Not only did this bring about the shortening of the work deemed necessary, it also reduced the technical demands of the arias significantly, and so made the rôles easier to cast. It is no longer possible to reconstruct beyond doubt when exactly and for which performance these alterations were made.
Even if the action is not set directly scene by scene, Il ritorno di Tobia still provides moments of striking theatricality. In matters of text setting, the Italianate oratorio of the XVIII century followed the opera seria closely: this begins with the sequence of recitatives and arias and continues with the ways in which these formal elements are given shape. The recitative is characterized from the outset by dialogue and the dramatic structure imposed by the characters’ immediate reactions to one other. This is not even altered by the fact that repeated events already bygone are brought back to life in the recitatives.
Haydn takes the opera as his model not only for the dialogical texture but also for the aria’s structure. Unlike the opera seria of the time, in which the involvement of the chorus is reserved for particularly festive types such as the Festa teatrale, in the Italianate oratorio both parts traditionally concluded with a chorus; usually the choir also played a part in the opening scene. Besides this, the inclusion of contrapuntal techniques is typical of oratorio. The basic question is still unanswered: it is an oratorio or a grand opera seria?
After performances in Vienna at the Kärtnertortheater in 1775 and in 1784 at the Hofburgtheater, where it was heard again in 1808 , Il ritorno di Tobia faded away until very recently. There only a couple of recording available - and not very easy to find and purchase.
Santa Cecilia’s lavish production is to be considered an Italian premiere. The symphony orchestra was superbly conducted by Flavio Biondi, the creator and leader of the Europa Galante ensemble. To borrow from Giuseppe Verdi one of his favorite quote Biondi “made the orchestra dance” . A few cuts were made in the very long score; I attended the Monday subscription performance starting at 9 pm. Even after the cut, the work, unknown to most of the audience, appeared too to some; at end (well after midnight) only half of the large auditorium (2800 seats) was full but those who sat through the end gave a generous applause to the orchestra, the chorus and the soloist.
The chorus deserves a special mention. There important and very difficult choral sections in Il ritorno di Tobia. They require considerable skills; conducted by Filipp Maria Bessan, the Santa Cecilia Chorus had a warm deserved applause.
Somewhat uneven the soloist cast. Maria Grazia Schiavo was an excellent Sara and gained an open stage applause after her long second act arias where her acute reached very high heights. An Allenberg is a alto specializing in baroque and XVIII century music; she was a very motherly Anne descending to very grave tonalities. Bernard Richter , Tobia,is a lyric tenor: he braved out a role requiring to climb very steep acute mountains. Less satisfactory Johannes Weisser , Tobit , and Valentina Farcas, Raffaele.