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Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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.’
07 Aug 2009
Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music — Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
In the Euroarts series Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music: Documentary & Performance, the volume devoted to Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra stands out as a particularly accessible and well-executed release.
As with the other DVDs in this series, the contents of the disc are divided between an analysis of the work as its “Documentary” and a film of a performance of the work, and this combination makes the release particularly useful as a teaching tool. To the credit of Günter Atteln, who was responsible for it, the documentary nicely allows historical background to intersect with a description of the music. More than that, the use of iconography helps to give a concrete image of the composer and that is a fine springboard for the interviews with the conductor Pierre Boulez.
Going further, it is useful to have the musical passages illustrated at times with images of the notation, so that students who view the documentary can have some reinforcement of the connections between written music and audible sound it represents. This demonstrates the well considered presentation behind the series, which extends further into the well-written script, inviting narration, and fine pacing. Moreover, through its focus and concision, the documentation on Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra serves the work well through the balance it offers on biography, analysis, and cultural elements.
Moreover, it is useful for audiences to hear the esteemed composer and conductor Pierre Boulez interviewed apart from his presence on the podium for the performance of the work. Boulez’s authoritative voice demonstrates his fluency in German, and the subtitles are a solid way for audiences unfamiliar with that language to apprehend his comments without the artifice of dubbing or other such means. As such, the interspersing of the female narrative speaking idiomatic British English with the continental Boulez commenting in German also contributes a nice variety to the spoken work in that part of the DVD.
As to the performance itself, the concert of the Berlin Philharmonic was given at the Mosteiro des Jerónimos, Lisbon on 1 May 2003. This monastery provides a picturesque background for the performance with its soaring, Gothic arches giving a sense of spaciousness to the concert. The acoustics in this performance space serve the work well, with its clean resonance for the burnished sound of the Berlin Philharmonic. In fact, the performance itself is one which deserves attention its own merits, as a relatively rare presentation of this work on DVD. The apse of the monastery allows for some excellent sightlines for capturing Boulez’s conducting well, and the lighting allows for some fine shots of the orchestra which avoid the glare which sometimes occurs in films of concerts on stage. At the same time, the position of the orchestra and conductor on almost the same visual plane as the audience adds a further level of accessibility to audiences who may be less familiar with this work or other examples of concert music.
The visual images are clear and immediate, the sound rich and full. With subtitles available in French, German, English, and Spanish, it should be possible for people in various Western countries to enjoy this DVD. In addition, the booklet accompanying the DVD contains a brief essay by Wolfgang Stähr, along with a pithy timeline of Bartók’s career, and a glossary of musical terms in German, French and English. (For the latter, a three-volume alignment would have been useful for teaching purposes.) All in all, it is a welcome addition to the series and a fine tribute to one of the masterworks of Bartók. Such an introduction would allow new audiences to delve more deeply into the Concerto for Orchestra. From here it would not be difficult for those interested to move to other music by Bartók, including such fine works for the stage as the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin or the opera Bluebeard’s Castle.
James L. Zychowicz