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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
09 Jun 2009
Così fan tutte, English National Opera
ENO's latest new production of Così — their third this decade — made the arts headlines from the start of its rehearsal period when director Abbas Kiarostami found himself unable to secure a UK visa and was forced to withdraw his direct involvement, leaving colleague Elaine Tyler-Hall to deputise.
The staging is an import from Aix-en-Provence, so did at least exist fully-fledged to begin with, but it was nonetheless a major blow to both Kiarostami and ENO that he could not be there to oversee its London revival.
Unlike some other recent opera productions by film directors one may mention, his début does not look or feel especially cinematic. Yes, there are complex animated video projections which provide the backdrop for the majority of the opera, but these seem quite separate from the live action on stage — or rather they seem to add little to the directorial interpretation of the opera as a theatrical piece. The vast calm sea projection looks lovely, but when in the second scene a little red-sailed boat heads slowly across the bay (to collect Ferrando and Guglielmo) it succeeds only in drawing the eye towards it for the entire duration of the scene, detracting attention from the singers. A projected on-stage orchestra for the wedding scene is entertaining at first, but it remains there for the whole of the final scene, and becomes annoying to watch once the real conductor’s beat has drifted slightly out of synch with it.
Otherwise the staging is an entirely conventional and old-fashioned one, disappointingly bypassing any attempt to deal with the opera’s difficult issues surrounding human nature, betrayal, and sexual double-standards. Without the projections (and some really lovely lighting by Jean Kalman) there would have been little else to distinguish this staging from one you might see from a run-of-the-mill touring company in a suburban town hall.
Of course it is highly unlikely that such a town-hall setting would boast two such classy performances as came from the evening’s soprano soloists. First, Fiordiligi: on the evidence of Susan Gritton’s performance of the same role in the previous ENO production, she wasn’t quite in her best voice on this occasion, and remains not entirely comfortable in the lower depths of the role’s enormous vocal range - but she is grippingly passionate, involving, and always intelligent. The other star turn came from young Sophie Bevan, whose confident, spunky Despina was a real highlight, using her diminutive figure to great comic effect in her guises as doctor and lawyer, and singing outstandingly well.
Stephen Page’s incisive and eloquent Don Alfonso easily dominated the two male leads, neither of whom left much of a dramatic mark, and to be honest it was tricky to see quite what the girls saw in them. At least the American baritone Liam Bonner was a vocally attractive and secure Guglielmo, but Canadian tenor Thomas Glenn was lightweight for Ferrando in such a large house, and sang untidily. Mezzo Fiona Murphy, vivacious and sassy as Valencienne in The Merry Widow and Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, was an warm-voiced but unaccountably characterless Dorabella, and with indifferent diction too.
Sophie Bevan (Despina), Susan Gritton (Fiordiligi), Fiona Murphy (Dorabella), Liam Bonner (Guglielmo) and Thomas Glenn (Ferrando)
The young Swedish conductor Stefan Kingele kept everything brisk and energetic right from the start; the tempo change into the fast section of the overture was brought forward a few bars, so that the second half of the Così fan tutte motif was already charging along at the new pace. He had less success in maintaining a tight ensemble between pit and stage; there were far too many partings of the ways.
The production makes the ending simplistic to the point of nonsense, without any apparent exploration of how the couples’ feelings towards one another may have changed, developed, or turned on their head as a result of the little experiment. None of them seem, ultimately, to have been remotely challenged by it. We are left wondering why Don Alfonso bothered.
Ruth Elleson © 2009