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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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