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At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
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.
13 May 2009
Peter Grimes — English National Opera, London Coliseum
In David Alden’s extraordinary new staging of Britten’s
masterpiece, with sets by Paul Steinberg, the Borough is populated by stylised
grotesques, a clever twist on the opera’s existing ‘Little
England’ character stereotypes.
In one of the production’s
creepiest moments, the big man-hunt chorus in the middle of Act 3 is
accompanied by waving of miniature Union Jacks.
Everyone you focus on has a darker secret than the last. At the more normal
end of the range are Felicity Palmer’s Miss Marple-esque Mrs Sedley and
Leigh Melrose’s apparently speed-addicted Ned Keene. The most disturbing
include Darren Jeffery’s Hobson, who appears to have a whole boy-killing
factory of his own going on unnoticed right under everybody else’s noses.
Weirdest of all are Auntie and the Nieces — Rebecca de Pont Davies as a
club-footed cross-dresser with a pinstripe suit and walking cane, and Mairéad
Buicke and Gillian Ramm as a pair of possessed zombie twins in identical school
uniform and pigtails. The Nieces are the production’s only faintly
jarring note, with their vacant and jerky choreography which makes them barely
even recognisable as human beings, but if they have one dramatic function
it’s giving a new layer of depravity to Bob Boles, Swallow and everybody
else who shows a sexual interest in them. Perhaps they are the ultimate product
of this diseased community.
Yes, it’s the norm here to be disturbed, deformed or damaged (even
Balstrode, sung by the excellent Gerald Finley, is missing an arm —
besides the costumes, this is the most obvious visual clue to the
production’s 1940s setting, though Auntie seems a throwback to the 30s)
and Peter and Ellen are seemingly the only complete and sane individuals among
them. Although her even-temperedness and common sense make her stand out from
her neighbours, Ellen is integrated into the community — a community
where people do everything together, moving in swarms — but Grimes is a
loner, and it is this and this alone which leads to his becoming the local
scapegoat. By the end, they have poisoned him into madness, but at least he is
able to escape through death. Ellen is the one who has to live with it all, and
I dare say she fits right in with the rest of them after all she has been
through. With Amanda Roocroft in the role, there are echoes of her recent,
brilliant Jenufa here — a bright-natured, attractive young woman worn
down through her experiences. At times her singing is shrill on top and her
diction indifferent, but her character portrait is spot on, the relationship
with Grimes filled with real tenderness.
The Australian tenor Stuart Skelton is as fine a Grimes as you could wish to
hear, wielding both his large voice and burly physique with intelligence and
subtlety. Emerging from the man-hunt and the subsequent pained calm of the
final interlude, Alden’s staging of the mad scene is devastating in its
simplicity: the surtitle screen and orchestra pit go dark, and Grimes is alone
in the abyss beneath a grey and foggy sky. Skelton maximises the effect the
solitude of the setting with a performance of heartbreaking vulnerability and
Peter Grimes (Stuart Skelton); Auntie (Rebecca de Pont Davies) (front rt); Bob Boles (Michael Colvin) (front rt in upturned chair); First Niece (Gillian Ramm) (lying down front nearest); Second Niece (Mairéad Buicke) (behind first neice)
As Grimes hears the drum-led procession approaching his hut — in a
clear and chilling musical echo of his vision, moments earlier, of the first
dead boy — he is distracted into letting go of the rope with which he is
making safe John’s descent down the cliff. Thus the villagers become
directly responsible both for the death of the apprentice and for Peter’s
self-destruction as a result of it. It is a heart-stopping coup-de-theatre.
In the two years that Ed Gardner has been ENO’s Musical Director I
don’t think he has ever drawn a better performance from the house
orchestra than in this detailed but never fussy account of the score. The
playing of the interludes was virtually faultless, with a particularly
memorable brass timbre, the jazzy shape of the phrases in the Storm Interlude
crafted so as to introduce the incongruous 1930s vintage of the inhabitants of
the Boar. A number of remarkable and inventive Grimes stagings have been seen
in London this decade, but musically, this is head and shoulders above the
others. It is perhaps ENO’s finest musical achievement this decade.
Ruth Elleson © 2009