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.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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