29 Jun 2009
Un ballo in maschera at Royal Opera House
On the whole, I’d prefer the conspirators to be sitting on toilets
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
On the whole, I’d prefer the conspirators to be sitting on toilets
No, really, ENO’s ‘controversial’ production of 2002 may have jarred with traditionalists but in many ways it made better sense than this revival of Mario Martone’s 2005 production. Martone is also a film director (cue groans from those who hated Kiarostami’s ‘Così’) and the opera is conceived as a series of tableaux, from the staid to the spectacular, but without much in the way of personenregie. The original production could boast of Mattila, Hampson and Álvarez in the leading roles, but for this revival the ROH have cast a house debutant soprano, the Chilean Angela Marambio, the Slovakian baritone Dalibor Jenis, and Ramón Vargas, and of the three it is only the tenor who produces a genuinely Verdian sound.
Anna Christy as Oscar and Ramón Vargas as Riccardo
I have to declare a preference for the Danish setting, with the venial King Gustavus biting the dust at the ball — it simply makes more sense to me, all the ‘American’ references in the Boston version sounding daft to my ears, and exactly which Massachusetts ‘castello’ did Riccardo appropriate from his enemy? Of course I’m aware of all the censorship shenanigans, but the story is quite ludicrous enough without adding on any extras. He loves her, but he has preserved her honour? Oh please. Renato entirely fails to recognize his own wife just because she dons a veil? Give me a break. These absurdities can of course be negated in a production which focuses on gripping the emotions and making sense of the politics, but this wasn’t it.
Dalibor Jenis as Renato
Ramón Vargas is yet another of those tenors once tipped to be one of the ‘new Three Tenors’ (groan) but he has survived this nonsense and is actually a fine musician, with a fairly light, flexible voice which he uses with taste and discretion — he lacks the big bow-wow effect beloved of many admirers of this repertoire, but there is no shortage of italianità in the singing, even though ‘Di tu se fedele’ was a little breathy and ‘O qual soave’ was rather thin on passion — that however was not exactly his fault. He did his level best to make something of the role, not exactly helped by either the direction or the Amelia.
Not only do revivals always encourage comparison — and it’s unfortunate in this context that Mattila was such a sympathetic heroine last time around — but they can also suffer from lack of work on the interactions between the principals, something which especially affected Angela Marambio, whose Amelia could blossom if she were able to actually do something on stage other than emote. Her best singing came in ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’ where stand and deliver is allowable, but in the Act II duet and at the death scene, she was sorely in need of some direction.
Angela Marambio as Amelia and Elena Manistina as Ulrica
Dalibor Jenis has an imposing voice and stage presence, and he was often convincing as Renato, although I’m sure he would not be regarded as a genuine Verdi baritone by most aficionados of the breed. ‘Eri tu’ was however grippingly sung, in one of the few believable scenes of the evening. Elena Manistina was a sinister Ulrica, her cries about communing with Satan not once eliciting a chuckle from me — and that’s praise, by the way. Oscar is one of opera’s most irritating parts, but Anna Christy succeeded in not making me wince more than a couple of times — again, a compliment.
Orchestrally things were slow — very slow — although there was plenty of light and shade in Maurizio Benini’s conducting. In terms of the production, who would not love Sergio Tramonti’s wonderful design for the ball scene, with its framed image and brilliant use of mirrors? The only problem was that some of the characters did not quite seem to know what to do with themselves, even as their beloved ‘Governor’ was breathing his last. I liked Ulrica’s bear pit and the Act II gallows, although I imagine the latter was a trial for those who had to walk around in it. The other scenes were deeply conventional, as of course was the feel of the whole evening.
Angela Marambio as Amelia and Ramón Vargas as Riccardo
This ‘Ballo’ comes after a starry ‘Traviata’ and before an equally name-laden ‘Barbiere’ so in a way it’s a kind of breathing space, and if you like your Verdi without too many directorial surprises and your singing and acting styles traditional, you’ll be pleased with this production — first night wobbles must have taken the edge off some of the phrasing, and I’m sure that later performances will find all three principals much more settled in.