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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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