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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.’
17 Jun 2009
Ian Bostridge at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
In a recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring twentieth-century
instrumental and vocal compositions Ian Bostridge sang Benjamin Britten’s
Les Illuminations under the direction of principal conductor Bernard
The concert opened with a contemporary arrangement of early music,
Steven Stucky’s transcription of Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music
for Queen Mary, this version receiving its first performances by the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The second half of the program offered a masterful
account of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, the performance here
yielding considerable opportunity for both soloists and orchestral ensemble.
The brief transcription of Funeral Music in four parts,
beginning and ending with a march, honors the musical spirit of Purcell while
offering a modern interpretation of the same. After an introduction emphasizing
low notes for the flute, a steady piano accompaniment gives way to the drums
signaling a dignified realization of death. Following this opening, the CSO
brass played an appropriately somber dirge, indeed one associated with the
elevated stance of passing royalty. An oboe solo, performed here with great
effect by Eugene Izotov, was echoed by the brass, such types of musical
dialogue informing much of the remainder of Stucky’s transcription of
Purcell. Sustained notes held by the use of the vibraphone introduced a
continuity leading to a final stately reprise, with the repetition of drums
calling the funereal tone into an ultimate focus.
The significance of Purcell’s music for Benjamin Britten is certainly
recognized from the latter’s instrumental compositions, and the pairing
in this concert with Les Illuminations functioned as yet further
homage to the earlier composer. Britten was first inspired by the poetry of
Arthur Rimbaud in the late 1930s and finished in 1940 his cycle of songs,
Les Illuminations for high voice and strings, based on
Rimbaud’s texts of the same name. The singer’s approach to the
poetic texts by Rimbaud and interaction with the string orchestra is key to a
unified approach in a performance of this cycle. Bostridge has given ample
consideration to a multi-faceted approach evident in this program. He injects a
sense of drama without appearing overwrought in tone while, at the same time,
maintaining sufficient ironic distance so that his performance serves as both
song and commentary on the text and music being performed. In the introductory
lines of “Fanfare” Bostridge declares with proud conviction
“J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” [“I alone have the
keys to this parade”]. When these words are repeated and varied ending
piano on the phrase “cette parade sauvage” [“this savage
parade”], the singer becomes a keeper of secrets, one who bears the mask
of an omniscient observer. With this alternating perspective Bostridge guided
the listeners through the following series of poems chosen and set by Britten.
“Villes” [“Cities”] details the varied and stirring
activity of the modern city, filled with moving individuals and their means of
transportation. To illustrate the mix of ancient and modern — the seeming
paradox of nature, myth, and metropolis — Bostridge intoned, in effective
succession, a rising followed by a descending scale on the verbal forms in the
phrase “la lune brûle et hurle.”[“the moon burns and
howls”]. At the close of this song the paradox of frenetic movement and
ancient model was capped softly by Bostridge as he asked “d’ou
viennent mes sommeils…?” [“from where does my sleep come
…?”] with tender inquisitiveness. In the following text of
“Phrase” the lyrical I speaks, almost as one of the fates,
stretching cords from one pinnacle or window to another. While describing
movement here with the statement, “et je danse” [“and I
dance”], the tenor emphasized the physical verb starting on a crystalline
high note that progressed, glissando and gracefully all-encompassing, to a
concluding low. In the following three pieces, before an orchestral interlude,
the tone sways between the private and the open spheres. “Antique”
is a direct address to the son of Pan, both description and attempt to
communicate, during which Bostridge used his voice to suggest the musical
instrument associated with the deity. The range of notes struck so effectively
by the singer in the conclusion to this song evoked the female and male aspects
of the “double sexe” as cited. In “Royauté” an
unidentified couple indeed play at the roles of royalty for an extended day,
their self-absorption brought out especially in the ironic detachment of this
performance. The movements of the ocean and foam slapping against a boat in
“Marine” were convincingly imitated by melismatic effects on
“l’écume” [“foam”] and the final emphasis of
“tourbillons de lumière” [“whirlpools of light”].
As the first in the second group of texts following the orchestral
interlude, “Being Beauteous,” as titled by Rimbaud, is replete with
contrasting images that call into question the concepts of actual and idealized
appearance. Through notable shifts in tempo Bostridge underlined these
contrasts while allowing the text to maintain its own organic flow. The tone of
the song was aptly concluded with a low, almost heavy vocal projection on the
words “de l’air leger” [“of the soft air”],
suggesting by the performer antithesis in one’s perceptions of beauty. In
the final two songs, “Parade” and “Départ,” the soloist
released a crescendo of varied emotions as he observed and commented on the
parade of humanity, a further and elongated assurance here given that the key
to the parade rested with the perception of this voice. In “Départ”
Bostridge looked truly weary as he sang “Assez vu” [“Enough
seen”], the slow and quiet intonations now concluding a cycle of
contradictions, as the final phrase, “l’affection et le bruit
neufs” [“the new affection and noise”] trailed softly into
In the Symphony No. 15 by Shostakovich, performed after the intermission,
Haitink gave cohesive direction to a sprawling work that blends original motifs
with ample quotation. In the first movement, marked Allegretto, an initial
motif was introduced by the solo flute, played poignantly by Mathieu Dufour and
leading into a series of other solo parts in succession. After the bassoon,
oboe, and trombone contributed their parts, combinations of instruments — e.g.
flute and brass, piccolo and strings — were punctuated by intermittent
references to the William Tell overture by Rossini. In the second, Adagio
movement a solo for cello was played exquisitely by John Sharp, who was
subsequently joined by Dufour in a duet followed by the full complement of
strings. The concluding movements of the Symphony, with various tempo markings
including — again — Allegretto, contain yet further quotations from the
composer’s own works as well. The integration of the past and
transformation into a new composition remained the guiding force behind
Haitink’s memorable interpretation.