Recently in Reviews
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..
02 Aug 2009
Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Of Donizetti's 55 operas, four to five hold on to secure places in the repertory, a much greater number are all but unknown, and in the middle come the titles that see occasional revivals, as flawed but fascinating rarities.
Lucrezia Borgia belongs to that latter group, and it might well have earned a place alongside Lucia and L’Elisir if Donizetti had been able to take more time in its composition (the booklet essay relates how the first rehearsals came only a week after Felice Romani had delivered the libretto to the composer!). Some of the music is uninspired, if professional, and the score’s most memorable numbers go to a relatively minor character (Orsini, a pants role for mezzo). The story itself may be fraudulent history, but it puts on stage an intriguing group of characters quite different from the formulaic romantic contraptions of many other mid-19th century operas.
Donizetti and Romani’s Lucrezia follows the historic portrait of a power-hungry woman who finds poison a useful way to protect and further her position. But she is also a loving mother, although she had to give the son she loves, Gennaro, over to an orphanage at an early age. Gennaro hates the Borgias, and his activities eventually draw a death sentence from Lucrezia’s husband, the Duke. She manages to save her son’s life once, but at the end of the opera she unwittingly poisons him (along with several others she quite wittingly intended to kill), and he refuses her antidote, dying in her arms after they have both sung at some length over the tragic turn of events.
The production Naxos presents originated at the Bergamo Musica Festival, in a recording compiled from November 30th and December 2nd 2007 performances. Angelo Sala’s set design employs stone columns and stairs, leaving most of the stage bare for appropriate props. More budget seems to have gone to Cristina Aceti’s costumes, of a traditional opulence. Lighting designer Valerio Alfieri casts much of the action in shadow and sickly blue light. It all adds up to a fairly conventional staging, but director Francesco Belloto has a good way with the singers, eliciting detailed reactions from not only the leads but from the entire cast, including chorus.
Dimitra Theodossiou, the Lucrezia, either hasn’t sought or hasn’t received many offers to perform in the U.S., but many a stateside opera fan would find her impressive. Not a conventionally beautiful woman, she has an old-time presence, self-contained , even regal. Without trying to judge the size of her voice from a recording, her soprano has that penetrating edge to it that usually carries well. The top can get steely, but she definitely has the notes. And when Donizetti wants the voice to move as nimbly as Lucrezia’s calculating mind does, Theodossiou doesn’t struggle a bit.
While acceptable, Roberto De Biasio’s Gennaro is not on her level. Before he warms up the intonation is not secure, and even once he is in control, the voice itself has little that is attractive about it. Enrico Giuseppe Iori makes for an impressively threatening Duke, and Nidia Palacios does well by the enjoyable music for Orsini. Efficient support comes from conductor Tiziano Severini and the Bergamo forces.
There are no extras on the Naxos disc. Paul Campion’s booklet essay is concise and informative, and there’s a helpful synopsis tied to the track listings, as well as the artist’s biographies. Anyone curious about this Donizetti opera should give this a look and listen.