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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
26 Jun 2009
Gőtterdämmerung in Venice and Kőln — Sex and Politics Behind the Berlin Wall
With Götterdämmerung, a co-production with the Köln Opera House created by Robert Carsen (stage direction), Patrick Kinmonth (sets and costumes) and
Jeffrey Tate (conductor), La Fenice approaches completion of the
La Fenice’s Ring, however, will not be
completed until next season because of complicated programming and budgeting
considerations. Consequently, the prologue, Das Rheingold, will be
seen in the lagoon after the downfall of the Gods and of the Gibichungs’
Kingdom. Moreover, although the Carsen-Kinmonth-Tate team remained unchanged,
many cast changes were made at La Fenice along with a revamping of the sets to
fit its smaller stage.
Chronologically, the Köln-La Fenice Ring is one of the first
to be staged in the 21st century. Its concepts are similar to those of the
“politically oriented” Rings that prevailed from the
mid-70s to the mid-80s, especially in Europe. This first of these
“politically oriented” Rings was the (nearly aborted) La
Scala production created by Luca Ronconi (stage direction) and the Pierluigi
Pizzi (sets and costumes) in 1974. The musical director, Wolfang Sawallisch,
objected to proceeding beyond Die Walküre. The entire project was revived
in Florence (with Zubin Mehta in the pit) in 1979-82. The most widely known of
the “politically oriented” Rings was the Bayreuth
“Centenary” production in 1976 entrusted to Patrice Chéreau and
Pierre Boulez. After four years in the “Holy Hill”, it became a
successful television serial that was also shown in regular movie houses. Now
whilst only photographs remain of the Florence production, the Chéreau-Boulez
Ring is available on DVD. It is fair to say that the saga lends itself
to a political allegory of industrial and political power, of lust for money
and for women, of Nazism’s rise and fall, a direction taken by Luchino
Visconti in his 1971 blockbuster film.
In light of this context, there is something old fashioned in the La Fenice-Köln production. Nevertheless, the Ghibichung Kingdom is not Hitler’s
Reich, but rather East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Red flags
are flying about the Royal Palace. The “nomenklatura” are dressed
in elegant attire of the '50s, accompanied by soldiers of the National
Peoples’ Army. Siegfried, Brünnhilde and the Norns, on the other hand,
are shabbily dressed. The Norns live in an attic filled with broken
furniture from the 1930s and the 1940s (an allusion to the defunct
Albeit attractive, the Rhinemaidens appear poverty-striken,
swimming in a polluted Rhine. As in many of Carsen’s production, politics
is mixed with a fair amount of sex. At daybreak, Brünnhilde begins her
passionate love duet by performing oral sex upon Siegfried. Hagen makes love to
Gutrune on Gunther’s royal desk (in the presence of her brother and
King). In the wife-swapping scene at the end of the first act, Siegfried
(disguised as Gunther) attempts to rape Brünnhilde before remembering his pact
with the King. The second-act wedding party initially appears as an orgy with
rivers of wine and spirits and ladies taking off their clothes.
In a similar
vein, the Rheinmaidens grope Siegfried all about his trousers. All of this heightens the coup-de-théâtre in the final scene. Brünnhilde is alone
on stage during the holocaust, the fire of the Royal Palace, the downfall of
the Gods and the flood of the river (cleansing corrupted Gods and corrupted
men-in-power). During the concluding passages, a huge waterfall covers the
stage. In short, although the concept goes back to the 70s, there are numerous
innovations in this Ring and this Götterdämmerung in
Although British, Jeffrey Tate possesses an Italian or Austrian conducting
style. He caresses the orchestra with gently slowing tempi. This clashes,
however, with the dramatic action-oriented stage direction. La Fenice’s
orchestra fares well; but it is not that of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
(which performed Götterdämmerung a few weeks ago) or of the Berliner
Philarmoniker (which will perform Götterdämmerung in Aix en Provence
in early July). Jayne Casselman was simply excellent, both vocally and
dramatically, as a vibrant Brünnhilde to be remembered for some time. Her
Siegfried, Stefan Vinke, performed well in the taxing third act; but in the
previous two acts he displayed vocal problems (especially with the Cs) and a
host of technical difficulties. He paled against Lance Taylor who performed the
role in the recent Florence production. A sexy Nicola Beller Carbone was a
vocally imposing Gutrune. And, the youthful Gabriel Suovane and Gidon Saks were
two well-rounded bass baritones, whom, I trust, we will hear often in the