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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?
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