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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..
15 Jun 2009
Haydn’s Bicentenary : 20 Capitals Salute “The Creation” With Standing Ovations
The Austrian Ministry of Culture and the Committee for the Celebrations of
Haydn’s Bicentenary had a brilliant idea: on May 31st , the day of the
composer’s death, 20 symphony orchestras and/or opera houses performed
one of his greatest and best known oratorios Die Schöpfung (The
Because of different time-zones, Die Schöpfung day started
in New Zealand and ended in Honolulu. An earnest radio listener could enjoy the
different performances over 24 hours and appreciate the difference in
conducting as well as in singing. Opera houses were included because in certain
countries (e.g. Germany) Die Schöpfung is also staged as a music
drama: computer technology and animation are a superb support to show the
initial chaos , the creation of the animals, of the flowers, of the lakes, of
the rivers and of the mountain as well as the Eden garden with the passionate
Adam and Eve duet.
In Rome, the Orchestra Sinfonica - Fondazione Roma (OsFr) was selected for
the task. The OsFr is a peculiarity in the Italian musical landscape: it is the
only fully private symphony orchestra. It does not receive any State,
Regional., Provincial or Municipal support but it is financed by the Fondazione
Roma ( a nonprofit foundation) and by a few companies. It has 90 permanent
elements (average age: 30), a budget which is less than one-fifth of that of
the main symphony orchestra in the Italian capital (l’Accademia Nazionale
di Santa Cecilia) and a low- priced ticket policy to attract young and old
people with modest income (season tickets for 30 concerts vary from € 260
to € 90 according to the category). Its music director and permanent
conductor is Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, who is also principal guest
conductor of the Berliner Symphoniker. La Vecchia has been music director of
Opera Houses and symphony orchestras in Central Europe (Budapest), Latin
America (Rio de Janeiro) and Portugal (Lisbon). The OsFr started some eight
years ago after a EU-supported training program for young graduates from
European conservatories. It has gained an important place in the international
music scenes also due to its tournée in Germany, Poland and China.
In January, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia had offered a different version
of Die Schöpfung — performed by Frieburger Barochester conducted
by René Jacobs and with Julia Kleiter, Donat Havar and Johanner Weisser as
soloists. The difference, of course, is not in the score (both Jacobs and La
Vecchia conducted the full score without cuts or intermission) but in the
style: dry, albeit almost religious, Jacobs’; passionate (even in the
approach to religion) La Vecchia’s .
Die Schöpfung is well known. Thus, there is no need to provide
Opera Today readers with background on its composition, on its Austrian and
London premières and on its contents. Its three parts are operatic acts. In the
first and in the second, the three archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael
observe the Creation by following very closely the biblical text. In the third
act, we are no longer witnessing from a distance the works of the Creator. The
scene is the Eden Garden. After an introduction of Uriel, the act is long love
scene of Adam and Eve that includes a duet supported by a choral background. As
Haydn planned, there are five characters but three singers: the bass and the
soprano are Raphael and Gabriel in the first and second act but become Adam and
Eve in the third act. The roles are taxing both for the duration (nearly two
hours of music ) and for the “virtuoso” singing — they imply
“coloratura”, “agility”, quite a few high Cs and many
Maestro La Vecchia recalls that in 1992 he had conducted Die
Schöpfung in the Amazonian Forest, at the vey confluence of the Rio Branco
with the Rio Petro. Over 10,000 Indios attended the performance thrilled by the
Haydn’s score. Most likely, the memory of that performance influenced
conducting on May 31st. In the first part, it is noteworthy how conductor,
orchestra and singers amplified the transition from the chaos (C minor) to the
newly lit world (A major) . In the second act, the emphasis is on the
descriptive imagery as in the portrayal of the animals: the cheerful, but rude,
trombone blast of the lion, the pouncing tiger, the placing grazing of cattle,
the sinuous music for the worm. The third act is less contemplative than
normally performed: the love between Adam and Eve is powerful, not merely
platonic; their duet is rapturous and timeless, an essential transition to the
glorious final chorus.
La Vecchia and the symphony orchestra had three excellent singers to work
with. Anita Selvaggio is a “soprano assoluto” better known outside
Italy than in her own country. Both as an archangel and as Eve she displayed a a remarkable flexibility in the upper extension and an extraordinary use of
messa di voce (a quality that many sopranos seem neither to care for
nor to practice enough). Michael Smallwood is an up-and-coming Australian tenor
with a delicate sensuous “legato”. David Wilson Johson is the best
known of the three soloists. He once again confirmed his talent and
Giuseppe Pennisi (Based On May 31st Rome Symphony Orchestra Performance)