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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.’
12 May 2009
Janáček: Jenůfa and Kátya Kabanová
Recorded four years apart, these two classic recordings of Leos Janáček's dramatic masterpieces now reappear in Decca's The Originals series, thankfully still with full librettos and excellent booklet essays.
Charles Mackerras continues to reign as the supreme conductor of Janáček’s music, and these sets provide further evidence of that, not least by filling up the second discs with other pieces. The Jenůfa set includes the final scene in the revised orchestration that introduced the opera to most of the world, before Mackerras led the return to Janáček’s original score, and the set concludes with an overture considered for the opera but never used. Janáček ‘s Concertino and Capriccio close the Kátya Kabanová set, both in witty performances conducted by David Atherton. The mood of those pieces is quite a bit different from that of the opera, it should be said.
Both sets feature informative essays by John Tyrrell, which give not only detailed background on Janáček’s compositions, including almost academic musical analysis, but also ample information on the original works behind the operas. In the Kabanová booklet Tyrrell’s essay is followed by a note from Mackerras, relating his first exposure to the composer who would become such a large part of his career.
The Kabanová set came in 1978, and its sound world is quite different from that of Jenůfa, composed many years before. The later work comes from the composer’s mature period, and it combines the exciting rhythms and naturalistic declamation found in the earlier work with a richer orchestral fabric, somewhat resembling the textures of his Taras Bulba. However, it seems to be the earlier opera that has established itself as the more performed of the two, undoubtedly due to the power of its story and characters. Both stories deal mainly in pain and distress, but Jenůfa ends with a gorgeous duet of redemptive love, whereas Kabanová’s heroine throws herself into a river, unable to find a way to live a new life or return to her old one. Nonetheless, as pure listening experience, your reviewer finds Kátya Kabanová a more entrancing score to listen to, with its greater variety of tone and mood. Jenůfa, on the other hand, works best on stage, where its characters come to full life, and can break the hearts of most any audience.
Elisabeth Soderstrom stars on both sets, her warm, womanly sound appropriate for both characters, and her command of the idiom as sound as her conductor’s. Peter Dvorsky gets to portray both the handsome but weak Steva of Jenůfa and the handsome but weak Boris in the Kabanová. He does so handsomely, with no weakness. Wieslaw Ochman earns his redemption as Laca with urgent, masculine passion. The Kostelnička, Eva Randova, has a full, secure voice, whereas on stage the role is often taken by a veteran singer whose voice may be worn but who can embody the character convincingly. The counterpart role in Kabanová, Kátya’s mother-in-law, is sung with fierce relish by Nadězda Kniplová.
For any opera lover who somehow never managed to acquire these sets in the long years when they were only available at full-price, now is the time to search them out and add them to your collection. Indispensable.