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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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?
21 May 2009
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Lieder, Salzburg 1958-1984.
In its recent collection Mozart Lieder, Salzburg 1958-1984 in its series entitled “Festspiel Dokumente,” Orfeo pays homage to the tradition of Liederabend at the Salzburg Festival with selections from a quarter century of performances.
In a two-CD set, it is possible to gain a perspective on these periodic recitals. Starting with the 1958 Festspiel, the recording captures Irmgard Seefried accompanied by Erik Werba, with some of the composer’s representative Lieder. This follows with music from a decade later in 1968 with Ingeborg Hallstein, again with Werba. The other performances follow in quicker succession: 1975’s Liederabend with Peter Schreier accompanied by Jörg Demus and Helen Donath with her pianist husband Klaus; in 1983, Edith Mathis with Heinz Medjimorec, piano; 1984, Edita Gruberova, soprano, and Irwin Gage piano; and in addition, Walter Berry sang Mozart’s Kleine deutsche Kantate, KV 619, with Werba accompanying him. (Gruberova also performed this work in her 1984 Liederabend.) All in all, this set of documents some of the finest exponents of Lieder of the time in performances, as underscored by the rubric on the discs, “Grosse Mozartsänger” (“Great Mozart singers”).
Some of the music is familiar, as with “Das Veilchen,” KV 476, which was part of several recitals, and it is possible to compare the performances by sopranos Hallstein and Gruberova, and enjoy the piece from the tenor Schreier. All three singers offer fine readings of this piece, and it is fortunate to have both in a retrospective collection like this one. Other pieces are not as widely known, as with “Der Zauberer,” KV 472, which Donath and Mathis included in their recitals, or “An Chloe,” KV 524, as performed by Seefried and, later, by Schreier. While most of the songs are indeed Lieder, Schreier, Mathis and Gruberova include several of Mozart’s chansons, such as the Ariette KV 308 “Dans un bois solitaire” (which Schreier renders in German translation and Mathis sings in French) or the Italian canzone “Un moto di gioia,” KV 579, which was part of Seefried’s and Gruberova’s programs. All in all, the collection not only preserves the works of these fine singers, but also offers a fine introduction to the solo vocal music of Mozart.
The performances are generally fine, and it is useful to hear multiple performances of the same pieces to gain a sense of the range of interpretation possible within this part of Mozart’s repertoire. The vibrant approach of Peter Schreier conveys a wonderful engagement with the music as found in the nuances of dynamic within the phrases, as the tenor uses in his performance of “An Chloe.” His effortless approach to higher range matches the control apparent in Schreier’s lower pitches. When compared to other singers singing this literature, Matthis seems more passionate in her interpretations, which are solid and convincing. The performances by Gruberova also merit attention, and her interaction with Irwin Gage demonstrates the way in which these pieces demand the attention such a pianist brings to their execution.
The sound of some examples, as with those of Irmgard Seefried, resembles studio recordings, while others, like those of Ingeborg Hallstein include some audience sounds including, at times, applause. Throughout these recordings, the balance between voice and accompaniment is generally good, with some recitals betraying a more aggressive accompanist, others with the singers placed closer to the microphone, as with Schreier. While some details may be easier to hear in the later recordings, like those of Gruberova from 1984, the quality is uniformly high.
In terms of the set itself, it is useful to have the full text and translations keyed to the tracks. In fact, Orfeo was good to use a single text when pieces are repeated and to include the listing of the tracks in which they also occur. At times the German is rendered differently than found in the music or, in some cases, sung, and those seeking English translations of the song texts will not find them in this rather slim booklet. Nevertheless, the concept behind the recording and, more importantly, the legacy it represents, is honored well in the selection of the pieces by some of the finest exponents of Lieder from the latter part of the twentieth century.
James L. Zychowicz