Recently in Reviews
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. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
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.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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.’
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”.