Recently in Reviews
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
26 May 2009
Zeffirelli’s New “Pagliacci” Without “Cav” But With Motorbikes
The new Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Ruggero Leoncavallo “Pagliacci” reached the Teatro dell’Opera di Rome on May 19 : I will be on stage in the Italian capital every night until May 27th . Then, it will continue a worldwide tour: its debut was in Florence in the 2008 Fall. It has already visited Moscow and Athens. It is rumored to reach the MET next seasons.
Leoncavallo never attained anything else remotely approaching the success of “Pagliacci”, though he wrote a dozen of other operas and operettas. “Pagliacci” is normally plaid in a double bill with Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”, as they are both short and kindred in spirit. Artistically, the combination represents the apex of the Italian “veristic” movement; commercially the double bill constitutes a salable “ham and eggs” staple for many an opera house. The “Pagliacci”’s Prologue is considered the very “manifesto” of “verismo” aesthetics It is known that Mascagni never appreciated the idea of the double bill. Zeffirelli broadly agrees with him. Albeit he has staged “Cav” and “Pag” in several theatres , including the “Met”, and also directed a movie with the two operas, most recently he has produced different versions of “Pagliacci” either alone or with a ballet (to fill the evening; “Pagliacci” lasts 70 minutes). In the 1980s, for instance, in a La Scala production, Zeffirelli placed the plot during Italian fascism and completed the performance with the Nino Rota ballet “La Strada” (after Federico Fellini’s movie). In the 1990s, in Rome “Pag” was a stand-alone show; the plot was placed under a highway bridge or by-pass in Southern Italy. In this new production, “Pagliacci” is a blighted Neapolitan suburbs where motorbikes (“lambrettas”, but also high speed Japanese motos) cross the stage, prostitutes of all races sell their ware, drug pushers are in the crowd of nearly 200 (double chorus, children chorus, extras).
The show is grand and also elegant and with Zeffirelli’s usual care for details. There is a special feature in the staging : the first act is quasi-neorealistic (inspired by Rossellini and De Sica movies of the 1940s); the second act is fellinian (viz in an atmosphere of Fellini’s movies). A real touch of genius which shows how Leoncavallo, although assertive “verista”, was approaching visionary expressionistic lands.
There a very close entente with the musical director Gianluigi Gelmetti whose wand demonstrate how brilliant is the score (in spite of what some reviewers starte); the use of motif’s point to Wagner’s influence (also present in the Canio’s role), the melodies are subtle and well-judged, the orchestra is used with elegance and the choruses (in Rome under the guidance of Andrea Giorgi) well-polished. The Prologue is a real stroke of genius. Gelmetti underscored the rhythmic élan of the main theme whilst Zeffirelli had the curtain abruptly torn aside to carry the audience into the kaleidoscopic world of the strolling players. The perfect “unison” between director and conductor adds value to the agonizing sorrow when Canio (Stuart Neill) takes on the second main them , his desperate “Ridi, Pagliacci”. Finally, the Colombin play is performed as it should be : a self-contained musical jewel with dance-like style including Nedda-Colombina (Myrtà Papatanasiu) minuet, Taddeo (Seng-Yyun Ko) light hearted waltz tune and duet where the comic parody has as undertone the dramatic thematic accompanied from the same scene in the first act and the underlying seriousness is clearly suggested.
The orchestra responded very well to the challenge of giving a demonstration that “Pagliacci” is not a second class score for cheap summer performances by travelling companies moving from resort to resort but a XX century masterpiece. Stuart Neill is big generous American tenor with the voice to fill the huge Teatro dell’Opera; his timbre is very clear and his acting better suited to Canio than to La Scala recent “Don Carlo” Myrtà Papatanasiu is a good soprano with a very nice voice emission but lacks the volume required by the Teatro dell’Opera. Effectuive Seng-Yyun Ko and the other.
The audience was thrilled as shown by the many curtain calls