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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..
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.