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Baroque opera has long been an important part of the Bavarian State Opera’s programming. And beyond the company itself, Munich’s tradition stretches back many years indeed: Kubelík’s Handel with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, for instance.
All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.
Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not.
But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and
must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the
evolution of an art form.
For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.
‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.
‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.
Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.
Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.
A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at
the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.
Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.
Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece
With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.
J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.
The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.
Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.
What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?
Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.
What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.
In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.
The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.
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