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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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