Recently in Reviews
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.’
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