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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.’
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