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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..
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