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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.’
24 Jun 2009
La Traviata in San Francisco
Much ink has been spilled over the failed Marta Domingo production of La
Traviata that San Francisco Opera inexplicably imported for its blatantly
audience baiting summer season (Traviata, Tosca, Porgy and Bess).
the critical intention of finding the positive and ignoring the well publicized
negatives of the production endured only through the first act (overheard
intermission comments “she seems very organized,” “I’ve
The second act, a Verdi masterpiece, was rendered nonsensical, the
storytelling eviscerated — Violetta flippant, Germont deadly cold,
Alfredo happen chance. Flora’s party was the occasion of an extended
ballet of the sort that makes audiences laugh. Violetta’s death was
enacted in the heavens, possibly a reference, maladroit, to the Eurydice
Charles Castronovo as Alfredo [Photo by Terrence McCarthy courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
If there was ever any theatrical integrity to this production it had
evaporated in this strange encounter of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, a superb
singer and a very particular artist, with the wife of Placido Domingo. Clearly
there was no connection between the emotional immediacy projected by Mme.
Netrebko, her dramatic delivery of text that was high Monteverdi in its
directness and intensity, and the stylized, content-less staging perpetrated by
Mme. Netrebko was in fine form for the June nineteenth performance, the
third of her five performances (Elizabeth Futral takes a further three
performances, Ailyn Perez one more). Her voice filled the theater with an
unusual volume and richness, pitch precision sometimes subjugated to
declamation in infinite tonal and rhythmic colorations. It may be noted that
she did not take the ‘Sempre libera’ high E-flat, nor did she open
the traditional cuts in ‘Ah, fors’é lui’ or her ‘Addio
Mme. Netrebko nearly met her match in American tenor Charles Castronovo who
brought urgency, voluptuously sculpted text delivery, beauty of tone and a
handsome stage presence to this Verdi tenor, though like all of them
Dwayne Croft (Giorgio Germont) and Anna Netrebko (Violetta Valéry) [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
Dwayne Croft, père Germont, possesses a fine instrument that he uses with
great care, and with commendable musicality. Though naturally commanding his
stage presence and musicianship paled in his confrontations with Violetta and
his son when it needed the immediacy and authority to confuse their youthful
Reveling in this charged musicality erupting from the stage conductor Donald
Runicles melted into a rapport with the stage that is all too rare in opera,
and when it occurs sublime music is sometimes heard. Mo. Runnicles’
mannered tempi and phrasing were elaborated by those mannerisms of his not
particularly Italianate soprano and tenor, and tempered by the stylistic
cleanliness and musical purity of his baritone. Finally the weeping minor
seconds of Violetta’s death rang incisively, with a final agogic
[a slight withholding of the beat] choke from the throbbing violins —
representative of the Runnicles mannerism catalogue.
Anna Netrebko (Violetta Valéry) and Dale Travis (Baron Douphol) [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
It could have been thrilling indeed, this death, had the stage moved in
concert with the Verdi poetic. Mme. Domingo imposed the forms of the roaring
twenties, a metaphor that does not seem to match the atmospheres of this
mid-nineteenth century morality play, perhaps because art nouveau lines are
overwhelmingly sensual, and flashing, reflective surfaces too sexually
forceful. Finally La Traviata is a simple story of family life that
easily disappears in fanciful images (three ballerinas floated onto the stage
to drape Violetta in a bridal gown during the death scene, as one of many
As this review is for Opera Today and not the Harvard Business
Review the focus is on the art of opera, not the art of business. Perhaps
an evaluation of the business of opera as reflected in this Traviata
and last week’s Tosca would validate some of the artistic
choices, and one hopes, result in more positive terms. Otherwise there can be
no point to San Francisco Opera’s summer season.