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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
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