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Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
19 Jul 2009
Götterdämmerung at Aix-en-Provence — A Human Symphony
This year’s program at the Aix-en-Provence Festival includes
Götterdämmerung, the much-anticipated final installment of the
Ring co-sponsored by Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and the Osterfestspiele Salzburg.
Its minimalist design by Stéphane Braunschweig (stage
direction and sets), Thibault Vancraenenbroeck (costumes) and Marion Hewlett
(lighting) notwithstanding, this production delivers a compelling musical drama
that focuses on the human condition.
This production of the Ring is an important step forward in the
interpretation of Wagner’s musical drama. Absent are the clichés of
characters dressed as Nazis (or as Eastern German soldiers in the recent Knöll
production in Venice). Absent is the bewildering “balance” between
science fiction and poetry as in the recent La Fura production in Florence or
the absurdly ridiculous staging in Lisbon that employed a circus ring. Absent,
too, are cardboard reproductions of medieval German forests, rivers and royal
palaces as imagined by late 19th century intellectuals.
Rather, we finally have a psychological reading of the Ring that emphasizes
the interpersonal relationships of the dramatis personae. The staging
is minimalist. The sets consist of three walls, a window and a staircase, along
with a few abstract. The props are three chairs, a leather armchair and two
beds. Lighting and acting (what a quality of acting!) do the rest, keeping the
audience on the edge of their seats for nearly 6 hours.
A key element of Götterdämmerung, as with the Ring as a
whole, is the sequence of leitmotifs associated with a character, a
place, an event, an object and so on. The Prologue begins with the sequence
expressing primal nature and the Rhine (No. 2), Erda (No. 42) and then the
Annunciation of Death (No. 83B). A new leitmotif (No. 154) is
introduced as the Norns appear weaving the ropes of destiny, discussing past
events, the doom of the gods, the curse of the Niebelung’s Ring,
questioning the nature of a distant gleam of light (is it fire or is it
dawn?).* The Norns then disappear and dawn breaks. With the
radiant tonality of daybreak, Brünhilde and Siegfried emerge after a joyous
night of love-making. We could not be more directly assured that we are no
longer in a world of gods, giants, dwarves, dragons and demigods. We are in a
universe of men and women where mist and the darkness are contrasted against
light and the radiance. Light and radiance win. Thus, after nearly 6 hours, the
turmoil of the downfall of the gods segues to the leitmotif of
redemption by love — the old order is shattered, a glorious new world is
Earlier productions stressed that the men and women in
Götterdämmerung stand alone with their problems (intrigues of power
and wealth) and their passions. Valhalla (with its gods and goddesses) is at a
distance. In this production, Wotan appears silently at the very end as the
Wanderer to witness the demise of “his” world — the old
order. The human psychological content of the Ring, and especially of
Götterdämmerung, is central to this production as conceived by
Bruanschweig, Vancraenenbroeck and Hewlett.
Another key to a successful production of the Ring is the
orchestra. Wagner thought of the Ring not as a cycle of operas (a
rather normal practice in 19th century Germany) but as a festival drama (where
each and every word had to be understood) with a symphony orchestra concealed
in a pit under the stage (not to be seen by the audience). Sir Simon Rattle and
the Berliner Philarmoniker transform Götterdämmerung into a symphony
of humanity searching for a better world — independent of the intrigues
of the gods, of the kings, of the dwarves, of the demigods and the like. A
similar symphonic treatment had been attempted in the mid-1970s by the
Washington National Opera in a production of Die Walküre (with Roberta
Knie at the height of her splendour). But the staging was the traditional
primeval Germany wrought in cardboard. And, with due respect to Antal Dorati,
the Washington National Symphony never possessed the high standard of quality
as that of the Berliner Philarmoniker. Sir Simon Rattle and his orchestra have
greater skills than most other orchestras in finding the right musical colours,
the gentle nuances, the always vivid imagination, especially the ability to
slide from a chamber music Wagner (e.g. Solti, Böhm) to a highly dramatic ,
black, tragic Wagner (e.g. Boulez, Sinopoli, von Karajan, Fürtwangler). This is
a Ring, and a Götterdämmerung, that demands many listenings
to appreciate the symphonic rigor and impact produced by Rattle and company. A
detail: there are six harps, as required by Wagner, which are placed just at
the centre of the orchestra under the stage. “Normal” productions
make do with two harps, often in a side box.
This Götterdämmerung benefitted from great acting and singing. At
the age of 55, Ben Heppner is a naïve Siegfried. The role is taxing, but his
voice maintained a magnificently crystal clear timbre and exhibited superb
phrasing, a moving legato and the ability to reach high C and F. Next
to him, Katarina Dalayma as Brünhilde displayed full vocal and dramatic power.
Her performance was particularly impressive in the holocaust of the final
scene. An ever young and attractive Anne Sophie von Otter appeared as
Waltraute, the desperate Walkürie tortured by the looming end of the world. The
vocally and dramatically promising Emma Vetter was a whorish Gutrune. As Hagen,
an impressive Mikhail Petrenko presented a character that was devilish, astute,
even more evil than his father Alberich (Dale Duesing). The Norns and the
Rhinemaidens (Maria Radner, Lilli Paasiviki, Miranda Keys, Anna Siminska, Eva
Vogel) were all top-notch.
In short, if you missed this Götterdämmerung in Provence, it is
worth traveling to Salzburg for performances to be held there next Easter.
Moreover, a recording of this production is in process. Look for it in your
*[Editor’s Note: The description and
numbering of leitmotifs are based on Ernest Newman, The Wagner
Operas 591-594 (Princeton Univ. Press 1949). The numbering of the
leitmotifs, however, varies from source to source. Compare Ernst von Wolzogen,
through the music of “The Ring of the Nibelung” by Richard
Wagner (Feodor Reinboth N.D.). It should be noted, however, that Barry
Millington cautions against labeling leitmotifs because the context in which
they appear rarely admits a consistently unequivocal meaning. Stewart Spencer
& Barry Millington, Wagner’s
Ring of the Nibelung — A Companion 14-24 (Thames & Hudson