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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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
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.