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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
22 May 2009
Norma by English Touring Opera
English Touring Opera continued its 30th anniversary celebrations with six concert performances of Norma, sung — unusually for ETO — in Italian, in a touring footprint which has some common ground with the ongoing staged tour of Katya Kabanova and The Magic Flute, but which is effectively an entirely separate tour.
The Norma was Yvonne Howard, a career mezzo whose recent forays into the soprano repertoire (notably, Leonore for Opera Holland Park and Lady Macbeth for Opera North) have been proving consistently successful. She undoubtedly sounds more soprano than mezzo these days, her voice brighter-hued than that of the Adalgisa, Alwyn Mellor, and her top notes easily produced and fully integrated with the rest of her voice. Though both women acquitted themselves admirably, it’s always difficult to ensure an adequate contrast between the two voices, and with this cast it didn’t come off; Mellor is a soprano, but a dark-toned, weighty one, and without knowing the plot it would have been impossible to tell which of the two women was meant to be the younger.
Under the baton of Michael Rosewell, Bellini’s score sounded classy, the four-square rhythms of the choruses crisp and poised, and the legato of the female-voice numbers elegant. The acoustic of Cadogan Hall has the benefit of making small forces sound full-bodied and substantial; I need not have worried about the volume limitations of an 18-strong chorus and an orchestra of fewer than 40. At the same time, solo voices can also carry well here, with Howard’s beautifully contained pianissimo in ‘Casta diva’ set off by the subtle orchestral texture. And the hall gives an immediacy to the opera’s more intimate dialogues, especially those between the two women; the soft opening section of ‘Mira, o Norma’ felt as though the audience were intruding upon a very private moment. One wonders whether the conversational style of the duets came across quite so powerfully at the tour’s larger venues, which included Exeter Cathedral.
Elsewhere the balance was more problematic, with the chorus tenors drowning out the women’s voices, and an excess of bassy orchestral sound threatening to overwhelm the tenor Justin Lavender in Pollione’s opening aria. Lavender was somewhat wooden and he failed to give the vocal line much shape; Piotr Lempa’s Oroveso was vocally adequate but rather stiff and characterless.
Considering the musical intimacy between the female voices, it was a shame that the opera was given in such strict ‘concert’ fashion. Though entrances and exits were made as necessary in a cursory step towards being semi-staged, the duetting singers always facing straight ahead and barely exchanging glances with one another.
Michael Rosewell [Photo courtesy of English Touring Opera]
The roles of Flavio and Clotilde were satisfactorily taken by Charne Rochford and Helen Johnson, who doubled as members of the chorus.
Onto the autumn, and ETO’s next project - in celebration both of its own anniversary and of Handel’s — will be the staging of five different Handel operas, in a tour which commences in October at the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music.
Ruth Elleson © 2009