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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
27 Jul 2009
An Evening at Père Lachaise [Or, Natalie Dessay Attempts Violetta]
A fine-sounding Santa Fe Opera orchestra, excellently conducted by Frédéric
Chaslin, was barely into the haunting, delicate prelude to Act I of La
traviata, when a funeral procession, wet umbrellas unfurled, arrived to
wend its way though a stage full of big grey marble rectangular boxes,
handsomely abstracted tomb shapes, soon to be the courtesan Violetta
Valéry’s destination. So much for the Prelude to Act I.
Saimir Pirgu (Alfredo)
During the intensely dramatic prelude to Act IV, anonymous stage figures in
half light, darted about draping the tombs with white shrouds preparing the
death scene of Violetta — so much for that essential orchestral moment;
again our attention had fled. For Flora Bervoix’s Act III party, the
weighty boxes, artfully arranged at varying heights, served as pedestals to
show off swaying party girls in lavish 20th century dancing gowns.
“Dancing on her grave?” Santa Fe’s new mounting of
Verdi’s opera, largely the work of a director Laurent Pelly’s
French team and the prima donna Natalie Dessay, seemed an evening at Père
Lachaise, almost literally, but Lachaise-manqué, transmogrified. The conceit
was interesting; many in the audience liked it and enjoyed its innovative
energy, yet it was, as we say, for its own sake — it added no new insight
into the old opera. It could also get in the way.
Laurent Naouri (Germont) & Natalie Dessay (Violetta)
Opinion divides on Mme. Dessay, as it usually will when coloraturas essay
Violetta’s essentially dramatic role. Through history, light-voiced divas
such as Galli-Curci, Lily Pons and Roberta Peters have tried and faded with the
fatal part. Deconstructively ruinous at Santa Fe was Dessay’s Act II
costume — dull, shapeless cotton slacks and a large man’s-style
white overshirt; barefoot. She was a 1960s hippie caught at home. The problem
was it robbed her of much dignity: and Violetta’s self-denying dignity is
key to the effect of this central act, with the two Germont men, each asking
her something different, and opposing. She is cruelly torn; it takes all her
resources to survive intact. By dressing her way down for the big confrontation
scenes, Dessay’s Violetta lost a lot of feminine stature and,
unintentionally I am sure, pushed her comic-seeming side; she looked raffish
and moved in an almost Carol Burnett way — all wrong. Producer Pelly got
this act badly off key. To do anything to defeminize Violetta is a grave
mistake. Violetta must be poignantly believable in Act II — or her show
does not fly, hélas!
The device of the graveyard underlying the whole opera seemed an over-kill,
ultimately a kind of director’s bad joke. Once again, where was dignity,
seriousness? La traviata is a mid-19th century tragic opera, with many
social overtones; it is most certainly to be taken seriously. But I did not
sense a lot of that with M. Pelly, though the performing artists worked hard.
Where was letting the music speak for itself (as in the two preludes mentioned
above)? Is it anything less than an affront to second-guess Giuseppe Verdi in
judging the effect of his music, and what it takes to put it over in theatrical
terms? Opera lovers will have their own views on this. In an interesting touch,
Père Germont was costumed and played as a 19th century figure, and that he
surely is; but Violetta is no less so, and to take her out of that cultural
milieu was counterproductive.
Natalie Dessay (Violetta)
Finally, Mme. Dessay is not a Violetta. As seen on the Santa Fe
stage, she is a little bird — in Act I a frantic, drunken little bird
with an orange wig and bright red and pink plumage; by the end she was a
plucked pullet flopping about the stage. Her voice does not have the dynamic or
tonal range to explore the full dimensions of Verdi’s music or
Violetta’s emotions; it is almost always the same color. She was wise to
sing both stanzas of “Addio del passato…” for a soft
pianissimo tone is her best asset just now, and she long held the aria’s
final p. high-A. A singular moment. I like Mme. Dessay a lot, and she’s
had a wonderful career, especially considering two throat surgeries and a
baritone husband. I think she has the spunk, but ultimately not enough vocal
resource to do justice to Verdi’s paragon soprano role. The surprise of
the evening was the excellence of Parisian baritone Laurent Naouri in the role
of Père Germont. His well-voiced traditional portrayal played strongly against
the eccentricity of the rest of the production; he showed vividly how this
wonderful opera should be treated. The young Alfredo was debut artist Saimir
Pirgu, an Albanian tenor with a pleasing voice and manner, graced by a nice
smile. In the latter stages of the opera he warmed to some beautiful soft-toned
J. A. Van Sant ©2009