21 Jul 2009
A knock-out Ariadne auf Naxos at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera Festival
There are rare times when a critic can just enjoy, and say “Wow!”
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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?
There are rare times when a critic can just enjoy, and say “Wow!”
The lucky audience at the Bavarian State Opera Festival’s Ariadne auf Naxos was witness to one of the most remarkably fluid and fun performances of this Richard Strauss work it has been my pleasure to see. The quirky production, every member of the cast — even deeply into the smallest roles — the conductor and the orchestra, all were of a single mind, and all at the top of their game. The result was total, unalloyed delight. It doesn’t get better than this.
From the very beginning, with dozens of mirrors wheeled on to the empty black stage, their reflections and changing placement instantly fracturing the stage focus into kaleidoscopically reconfigured crystalline structures — not unlike in the celebrated climax of Orson Welles’ classic film “Lady from Shanghai,” a chase set in a fun-house of mirrors — this genius production by Robert Carsen beautifully embodied the Hoffmanstahl/Strauss conceit of irrationally mixing up two disparate genres. If perhaps there was one too many upright pianos wheeled onstage here, or an occasional longeur there, these were minor cavils when the whole is such a beautifully realized directorial high-wire act. If theater is just smoke and mirrors, Carsen managed it brilliantly with barely more than the latter.
Scene from Ariadne auf Naxos with Diana Damrau as Zerbinetta in the foreground
The audience’s darling, as it should be, was the Zerbinetta of Diana Damrau, who proved capable of an astonishing range of physical acting, vocal pyrotechnics, and plain delight throughout the performance. Her red high heels came on and off with aplomb as she negotiated the virtuoso demands of the part and the production. She presents herself with a freshness and seemingly off-the-cuff decisions that are nothing short of daringly breathtaking. Even the most strenuous episodes came off with an irrepressible naturalness which is the opposite of studied. One hardly knows what to praise more, her musicianship or her acting — but the two cannot be separated. They form a seamless wonder, with or without those red high-heels.
But Damrau was hardly alone in this deep cast of talented artists. Each contributed his or her more than considerable best. Primadonna/Ariadne, Adrianne Pieczonka and Composer Daniela Sindram were also as magnificent in their fiery roles, and gave no grounds for anything other than complete admiration. Everyone in the cast made the most of their moments to shine. Martin Gantner (Musiklehrer) was suitably aggrieved. Burkhard Fritz was an outstanding Tenor/Bacchus. Nikolay Brochev (Harlequin), Ulrich Ress (Scaramuccio), Steven Humes (Truffaldin), Kevin Conners (Brighella), Christian Rieger (Lakai), Guy de Mey (Tanzmeister), Kenneth Robertson (Offizier), Aga Mikolaj (Najade), Nicole Piccolomini (Dryade), Sine Bundgaard (Echo) were all excellent. Todd Boyce, who two nights before had been one of the clown-chorus of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, here was an amusing Wigmaker. Non-singing actor Johannes Klama was a most officious Haushofmeister. Bravi tutti.Scene from Ariadne auf Naxos with Adrianne Pieczonka as the Primadonna in foreground
Under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, he Bavarian State Opera Orchestra did itself more than proud, effortlessly supporting the singers and the stage action. All played exquisitely, with verve and delightful, drawing exquisite colors out of this perversely refined yet tatterdemalion score, wheezing harmonium included.
My one and only complaint is the lack of intermission between Vorspiel and “opera” proper, especially since the wooden seats of the Bayreuth-like Prinzregenten Theater begin to test the physical limits of the audience for such a long period, reminding one why German, apparently alone among languages, has that particular word Sitzfleisch, or sitting endurance. But more importantly, a toast would have been welcome for such a bravura display of artistry before plunging into the “performance” proper, It also forced the Composer in this production to spend the second half of the work standing mute at the foot of the stage among the audience, looking on. A missed opportunity for the audience to collectively celebrate their great good luck to be able to witness such a marvelous, dizzyingly witty and rich realization of this complex work.Daniela Sindram as Der Komponist
The performance took place in the Bayreuth-like art-deco Prinzregenten Theater, the middle-sized of the Bavarian State Opera’s three opera houses, located by Munich’s Isar river.
Raphael Mostel © 2009