21 Jun 2009
Claudio Abbado Introduces the Complete Pergolesi
Very little is known about Giovanni Battista Draghi (or Drago, according to certain sources), known as Pergolesi.
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.’
Very little is known about Giovanni Battista Draghi (or Drago, according to certain sources), known as Pergolesi.
He was born in Jesi — also the birthplace of Gaspare Spontini — on January 4th 1710 to a poor family (and most likely affected by many hereditary diseases). At a young age he left the small and pleasant little town on the Marche hills near the Adriatic Coast to move to Naples. There he studied at the San Pietro in Majella Conservatory. Upon graduation, he found employment as a musician and composer with a family, the Maddaloni, closely linked to the Austrians and thus not on good terms with the new powers-to-be in Naples (the Spaniards). He died young , at the age of 26, in a Monastery near Pozzuoli, in the suburbs of Naples. In his short life, he composed several opera serias, Church music and intermezzos. He was, it seems, well-known and appreciated in Naples and Rome (where the Maddaloni family went to find shelter when the Spanish Bourbons took over the Government in the Southern State).
He became internationally known several years after his premature death when his intermezzo La Serva Padrona, generally credited as the first opera buffa, precipitated a major artistic controversy (la Guerre des Bouffons) in France as well as elsewhere in Europe in the decades immediately preceding the Revolution. The first performance of La Serva Padrona in Naples in 1733 passed unnoticed; it was performed as a intermeszzo among the three acts of the opera seria Il Prigionier Superbo. La Serva Padrona was produced in Graz in 1739 by an Italian touring company without much notice. Its big splash was in Paris in 1752. Then, it provoked such a tumult of enthusiasm that it can be said to have caused a revolution in French opera; it played to almost full houses for nearly three years. At that time, French opera dominated and domineered European stage. The plot of La Serva Padrona is simple and satiric. Most of the dialogue is written the rapid recitative secco , unknown elsewhere in Europe except for Naples. The real charm of the short two parts intermezzo resides in the set numbers arias and duets where comedy and pathos intermingle. It was a real shock in Paris where the baroque opera was at its sunset and the tragédie lyrique was losing his hold. La Serva Padrona became an opportunity to inveigh against tradition and to promote the new culture of free expression of feelings- in short, to bring enlightenment to the opera stage and to the opera houses. The philosopher Jacques Rousseau became the leader of the movement; he himself composed an opera buffa in the new style, Le Diven du Village.
A scene from La Serva Padrona
Internationally, Pergolesi is mostly known for La Serva Padrona and two of his sacred pieces, Salve Regina and Stabat Mater, but he was a prolific composer in his brief life; at least six operas, mostly opera serias, are attributed to him. For the 300th anniversary of his birth, the Jesi-based Pergolesi Foundation has the ambitious program to stage all of them; the six operas will be staged in Pozzuoli, where, as already mentioned, the composer died.
It is fair to say that only two of the six operas would be new productions. In the last few years, the Foundation has already staged four of them in programs co-produced with the Festival of Radio France in Montpellier and with the Baroque Festival of Beaune as well as with the theaters of Modena, Piacenza, Ravenna, Reggio Emilia and Treviso. The full schedule is available at www.fondazionepergolesispontini.com and summarized at the end of this article.
A scene from L’Olimpiade
A jump start to the festival was, on June 5th, a concert of the Mozart Orchestra with Claudio Abbado conducting a fine group of soloists and the Swiss Radio Chorus. The concert was performed in the lovely Pergolesi Theatre in Jesi, with live and free maxi-screen video on the main square of the town. Only the initial number of the concert came from an opera, the aria Manca la guida al piè from the Neapolitan music drama Li Prodigi della Divina Grazia nella Conversione e Morte di San Guglielmo, a dramatic play Pergolesi composed when he was 21. The play has never been staged in modern time; it is programmed for December 2010 as a part of the performances of Pergolesi’s complete oeuvre. The rest of the concert was devoted to Church music with the Missa in F major taking up the entire second part. Abbado conducted with sublime elegance. All the soloists were of high standard, especially the alto Sara Mingardo. The audience was enthusiastic.
Our readers are most likely more interested in the operatic full immersion in Jesi and Pozzuoli than in a review of concert. I have seen in Jesi all the four productions that will be revived as a part of 2010 program. All of them are of high quality and show a Pergolesi very different than the composer generally known to international audience - mostly through La Serva Padrona, Salve Regina and Stabat Mater. I would recommend especially two of the four operas: La Salustia and L’Olimpiade. The former is one of the early opera seria by Pergolesi: it is passionate, nearly lascivious (also due to the staging by Jean-Paul Scarpitta), and thus very modern as compared to the standard and style of the time. The latter uses the Metastasio libretto previously set to music by Vivaldi, Galuppi and others, but it is unusually powerful in capturing friendship and competition among two young men; the staging of Italo Nunziata is a dramatic masterpiece.
The Opera performances in Jesi:
Il Prigionier Superbo- 11-12 September 2009 La Serva Padrona - 11- 12 September 2009 Il Flaminio - 4-6 June 2010 Adriano in Siria - 10’-12 June 2010 Livetta and Tracollo - 10-12 June 2010 La Fenice sul Rogo - 13 June 2010 Lo Frate ‘Nnamoratu 3-5 September 2010 L’Olimpiade - 10-12 Sempter 2010 Li Prodigi de la Divina Grazia 11September 2010 Il Prigionier Superbo 19-21 November 2010 La Serva Padrona 19-21 September 2010 La Salustia 10- 12 December 2010
Dates of the Opera Performance in Pozzuoli 4-13 September 2010