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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
19 Jul 2009
Alice Coote stars in the First Night of the BBC Proms 2009
The Proms reach people all over the world, bringing them together for a kind of international street party, celebrating a shared love of music. If the arts make us more human and humane, then the BBC Proms are a force for good.
The atmosphere at the First Night is electric, everyone’s in a party mood. Yet the high point of this Prom was Alice Coote’s stunning Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, op. 53, heard for the first time at the Royal Albert Hall in 41 years.
The Prom began with Stravinsky’s Fireworks, op 4. It’s a bagatelle, but Diaghilev liked it so much he commissioned The Firebird and then The Rite of Spring. So from this acorn grew modern music. Not even the carnage of the First World War could stem the tide. This year’s Proms will feature all of Stravinsky’s ballets.
Chabrier’s Ode to Music followed. Ailish Tynan has been on many Young Artist programs, many of which were BBC funded and promoted. She’s proof that such sponsorship nurtures performers. It must be nerve wracking to sing before an audience of millions, so Jiřì Belohlàvek led the BBC Symphony Orchestra sensitively. Belohlàvek is proving a revelation in London music circles. He has no equal in Czech and Slavic repertoire. Recently his Dvořàk’s Rusalka at Glyndebourne won great acclaim. At last year’s Proms, he produced a superlative Janàček Osud. This year he’ll be conducting Smetana and Martinů.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 3 is another acorn, but one which didn’t grow past its first movement. Yet it’s interesting because it shows how full of life the composer was just before he died. No “curse of the Pathétique”, then. This rarity was a surprising choice for something as high profile as the First Night of the Proms, when the audience is happy with flashy crowd pleasers. But in a quirky way, that’s why it worked. The Proms may appear safe, but there’s enough challenge for those prepared to venture.
Back to fireworks with Katia and Marielle Labèque. Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos is a three part drama, an interplay between two different pianists and orchestra, with individual instruments playing smaller supporting roles. Moods swing between tender and jazzy, from elegant serenity to uninhibited joy. For an encore, the Labèques then played four hands on one keyboard, a lively polka by Berio - not Luciano but his grandfather. Another Proms surprise !
International as the Proms may be, they symbolize Britishness to many, so it was good to hear Elgar, in sunny mode, In the South played with élan.
The heart of this Prom, though, wasn’t the obvious cheerful pieces but Brahms’s devastating Rhapsody for Contralto, the Alto Rhapsody. Alice Coote’s performance was searing, white hot with intensity, without sacrificing the compassion and dignity that makes the piece so moving.
Goethe’s poem depicts an outcast who sets off away into the wilderness. From a brooding orchestral introduction, Coote’s voice projects into the vastness of the Royal Albert Hall. It’s important that she has such command, for the poem pits an individual against overwhelming forces. “Die Ode verschlingt ihn” goes the text, “the desert engulfs him”. Coote breathed into the “o” in “Ode” so it rang resonantly, yet hinted subtly of the hollowness within. Then she extended “verschlingt”, stretching it to evoke distance and then oblivion.
There’s something neurotic about this poem. The disappointed man “furtively feeds on his own worth in unfulfilling self-love”. (“zehrt er heimlich auf seinen eignen Wert in ung’nügender Selbstsucht”). Coote showed how the repeated sounds “seinen” and “eignen” elucidate meaning. The protagonist is going round in circles, grinding himself down. Maybe that’s why the poem appealed to Brahms? Ostensibly he was upset that he’d been jilted by Clara Schumann’s daughter but there’s no evidence that he had a real relationship with her, or indeed with any woman, Clara included.
Perhaps that’s why the resolution in this piece comes from the way Brahms integrates the soloist, chorus and orchestra. A characteristic Brahmsian flute melody appears, at first tentatively, then grows in power, joined in the final strophe with the choir of men’s voices : no longer is the mezzo really alone, for the Vater der Liebe (father of love, possibly God) has shown mercy, revealing the “thousand springs that can help the thirsty in the desert” (“die tausend Quellen neben dem Durstenden in der Wüste”) Coote rounds the vowel sounds in “Wüste” making the word grow with as if absorbing nourishment.
The Alto Rhapsody is a powerful work, Brahms’s Winterreise, if you will, heralding the even more profound Vier ernste Gesänge, op. 121. After a performance like this it was hard to take in anything else.
All Proms are available for listening online and on demand on the BBC Proms website. The First Night was televised so there’s also a video upload, Over the next few weeks, Opera Today will be covering Proms of opera and vocal interest, including a new Handel Partenope (with Andreas Scholl) and Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. a semi staging of the current Glyndebourne production reviewed in June.
Click here to access the BBC Proms web site.