Recently in Reviews
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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
12 May 2009
Verdi and Boito at the Rome Academy of Santa Cecilia — Angels and Demons in an Unusual Setting
By sheer coincidence, the Academy of Santa Cecilia — one of the most authoritative symphonic orchestras in Europe — planned a rather unusual concert in the same days (May 3-7) when just in the very same auditorium there was the world première of a movie expected to be a Hollywood blockbuster — the thriller titled “Angels & Demons”.
In addition, Maestro Antonio Pappano gave to the concert a title quite similar to that of the movie: “Angels & Demons”. This did ingenerate some confusion in the press. Opera Today seldom deals with symphonic concerts. However, this was a very special opportunity: an appetizer of what Pappano could do if he would conduct a fully fledged performance of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. I do not know whether Pappano has ever conducted the full opera in a stage performance.
Mefistofele is an “opéra maudite”, viz . an opera over which a bad spell seem to hang . It was a fiasco when his 7-hours-plus first version was premiered on March 5 1868. It was a major hit when drastically revised, the present version (about two and a half hours of music) was stage on October 4 1875 in Bologna. This second version was successful nearly until World War Two. Then, it disappeared nearly all over. In the USA, I remember a good production constructed by the York City Opera around the bass Norman Triegle in the 1970s. In Italy, only a few conductors (Riccardo Muti, Stefano Ranzani, Nicola Colabianchi) appear to like it. A few years ago Mefistofele was produced at La Scala but only for a few performances. In 2005 it was on the stage of the small Maruccino theatre of a little provincial town, Chieti; there Maestro Colabianchi took up the challenge. A few months later, Maestro Muti conducted two open air concert performances of excerpts of the opera in Ravenna and Tunisia. In 2007, a glittering Giancarlo Del Monaco production inaugurated the season of the Palermo’s Teatro Massimo with Maestro Ranzani in the pit.
I consider Mefistofele an uneven masterpiece , the only real attempt - with the second part of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony - to capture the spirit of Goethe’s poetry. Of course, only an attempt due to the immensity of Goethe’s Faust. There are naïve parts and uncertainties - something rough, not fully polished. But this adds to its charm.
Even in the decades when Mefistofele was hardly seen on stage, “The Prologue in Heaven” was often performed as a concert piece. It is a 25 minutes superb summary of what will happen next in the opera. Maestro Pappano , and the orchestra and chorus of the Santa Cecilia chorus- as well as the Rome children chorus - provided a real heavenly panoply in the opening of the “The Prologue”. The trumpet fanfares were sumptuous, the percussion thunderous, the brass and harps angelic: the audience felt to be in the Celestial Heights. Then with arrival of the Uruguayan bass Elwin Schott and his sarcastic and burlesque “Scherzo” we were taken down- to Hell. Schott is a bass with a well-tempered timbre; his grumblings sound even more blasphemous than in Triegle’s or Furlanetto’s performances. Pappano , the orchestra and the double chorus reach solemnity in the “Chorus Mysticus” scene immediately followed by a sharp confrontation in the challenge scene to ascend again to Celestial Heights when the Cherubins arrive and chase the tempter. A vibrant full of fire conducting which makes me ask for more, for a full production. The concert hall has 2800 seats ; the audience was enthusiastic.
Mefistofele’s “Prologue” was precede by a rarely performed Verdi’s Te Deum . Verdi was a tormented atheist, whilst Boito was a deeply rooted and contented atheist. His Te Deum is a late composition - first performed in 1898 when he was well in his 80s. It was not an old man’s search for after-life-peace. With a bit of irony , Verdi wrote that it was meant as the Audience’s (with capital “A”) Thanksgiving for not having to listen to his opera any longer . Twenty years after his Requiem, Verdi is back in Church but once more, like in a melodrama his music deals with human, very human passions more than with Godly feelings. The Chorus is a grand-opera chorus counterpointed by a soprano voice and a masterly orchestration . Pappano is, first of all, an operatic conductor. Hence his highly dramatic.
The initial part of the concert was Beethoven’s First Symphony. Pappano lengthened the tempos: the symphony lasted nearly 45 minutes instead of the 30-35 in most recorded performances . He added pathos in the “adagio” and “andante con brio” but last the Haydn’s and Mozart’s XVII century elegance in the “minuetto”.