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At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
21 Jun 2009
Alceste by The Collegiate Chorale
The Collegiate Chorale (ably supported by the orchestra of the New York City
Opera under George Manahan) chose Gluck’s Alceste, last heard in
New York at the City Opera in 1982, for its annual spring concert opera —
an excellent choice for a chorus eager to show its stuff.
That Gluck, halfway between the baroque revival and the Mozartean standards,
is on a roll is not news. Orfeo is performed all over the place
— it always has been — but in more and more headline-grabbing
productions. Iphigénie en Tauride has become almost a repertory item
— Susan Graham does it everywhere, and other singers are taking it up. I
heard Iphigénie en Aulide in Rome last March (in a production borrowed
from La Scala), Armide was recently staged in Berlin, and
Alceste will be given in Santa Fe this summer with Christine Brewer.
Paride ed Elena is a workout — essentially two singers in a
long, aria-by-aria, seduction — so it’s not surprising that that
remains a rarity.
In Alceste, Gluck uses the chorus in his stately way to set the
scene in his three acts, creating a mood (somber in Act I, joyous in Act II,
hellish in Act III) against which the principals create the drama by vivid
contrast. In Act I, Alceste resists the helpless sorrow of the people of
Thessaly, bewailing the imminent death of their king — she will take
action, offering herself to death in her husband’s stead. In Act II, the
rejoicing of the populace is again a setting for Alceste, when she admits to
her husband what she has done, plunging everyone into mourning yet again. In
Act III, the raucous Hercule breaks the spirit of the Underworld denizens and
saves Alceste. The chorus is thus fundamental to the action by creating a
musical backdrop against which the individual may become heroic. The mass and
weight and careful diction of the Collegiate were impressive, though the many
solo lines spread among them (Gluck’s idea: so we can take them for
individual inhabitants of Thessaly in a national crisis and not just anonymous
masses) did not sound of proper operatic caliber.
Alceste usually gets trundled out for some aging, rather placid grande dame
— few characters ever lose their cool in Gluck, and Alceste’s
emotions are grandly presented — seething beneath a surface of good
manners. Technical control and subtle acting are cues for the part —
Alceste does not have a huge orchestra to contend with, but she must express
her despairs and her resolve with dignity and economy.
Deborah Voigt’s voice was once a technical marvel, though seldom
expressive. For whatever reasons (and she was singing through a cold on this
occasion), she is no longer fully in control of her voice. Phrases droop from
pitch or blare forth undirected. Her famous aria at the conclusion of Act I,
“Divinités du Styx,” was sung with full technical command but
slight feeling; her quieter, more introspective aria at the opening of Act II
was a rare, affecting moment when the singer was playing the part, not simply
vocalizing. Voigt has been a fine Cassandre in Les Troyens, a role
that would seem to offer a key to a fine Alceste, but on this occasion the
music got away from her.
The singer who brought down the house was Vinson Cole, a veteran called in
as Admète when Marcello Giordani had to cancel. I heard Cole sing Gluck twenty
years ago, in the French version of Orphée, where he was suave,
yearning, thrilling, far more effective in the part than the altos who usually
sing it (in the Italian version). His Admète was a stunner: the voice so
youthful (belying his white hair), so liquid, so lyrically expressive that the
opera’s focus became his anguish rather than Alceste’s sacrifice.
Richard Zeller made a good roustabout Hercule, Kyungmook Yim was an exciting
Apollon (Admète’s friend in high places), and Ryan Kinsella effective as
the oracle who decrees the substitution possible. Manahan, in the pit, was
always dignified but never boring — the proper style for Gluck.