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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.’
30 Aug 2009
Gustav Mahler: Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Following from the fine collaboration between Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles on an ambitious collection of various sets of Mahler’s Lieder (Hyperion CD 67392), which includes some of the composer’s early settings of poetry from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the present recording contains thirteen later settings from that source.
Some of the most familiar of Mahler’s Wunderhorn Lieder, these are also among the most challenging. From the opening piece, Mahler’s setting of Revelge, the dynamic interaction between the two performers is evident. This is a vibrant rendering of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn in the versions for voice and piano, a setting which requires the idiomatic approach Vignoles uses for the accompaniment and the nuanced tone Genz uses to evoke a sense of chamber music. Lacking the sonorous orchestral accompaniment, the singer is more exposed, and this allows Genz to display his vocal finesse well.
If the opening selection in this recording, Revelge, can be stentorian in some performances of the orchestral version, it requires the full-bodied intensity Genz uses to evoke the military music evoked in this setting. Here Vignoles’ lively approach to the accompaniment support’s the musical structure well, especially in the use of crisp articulation to suggest the percussive aspect of Mahler’s musical gestures. In contrast to this more extroverted song, the interpretation of Rheinlegendchen is wonderfully subtle, and Genz’s phrasing of certain lines is memorable for the nuances he brings to a song which deserves such attention to detail.
Vignoles makes use of a similar subtlety in Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen, a setting which benefits from the restraint the accompanist evinces, so that the vocal line can accumulate intensity in its execution. Here Genz’s sustained pitches are quite affective, and his sometimes hesitate approach to various lines is something difficult to achieve well with the full orchestra on stage. In the close ensemble with Vignoles, details like these emerge easily and to the benefit of literature that needs to be heard in performances like these. The delicacy Genz uses in the lines “Bein meinem Herzallerlieble” and “O Lieb auf grüner Erden” is touching, as is the warm intensity he brings to the sequential passage at the phrase “Sie reicht ihm auch die Schneeweiße Hand.” At the end Vignoles aptly bring out the reference to the folksong “Bruder Martin,” a reference wholly Mahlerian and yet absent from some performances of the piece.
Such synergy occurs in the Erlkönig-like setting of the poem “Verspätung” as Das irdische Leben (the counterpart of Das himmlische Leben, which became the Song-Finale of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony) With its perpetuum mobile accompaniment, Mahler brings out the reversal at the end, where the persistent child succumbs to the hunger its mother will not sate. In this performance Vignoles allows the accompaniment to bring details to the song, and thus supports Genz well. A similar kind of accompanying figure is part of the structure of the following song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt, and the gesture in this piece reinforces the text in reference to recalcitrant audience of unrepentant fish, the metaphor for humanity’s failure to heed even the sermons of saints. In this performance the tempos are slightly slower than some take, and this allows a welcome clarity to come to the fore in the accompaniment - the vocal line benefits from the clear enunciation of the text, so necessary to bring out the irony of the piece.
Vignoles and Genz approach Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? in a similar way, and in their execution effect some fine accelerandos that accentuate the text and culminate in an exemplarily clear and even rendering of the vocal line that brings the piece to its conclusion. The use of tempo modifications emerges nicely in Trost im Unglück in which Vignoles and Genz demonstrate a solid interplay necessary for the song. Tempo also affects the way in which Vignoles makes the dissonant tones of the accompaniment figures of Verlorene Müh’ serve as a kind of commentary on the text, which Genz, in turn, intones with appropriate earnestness. Genz’s vocality culminates in a persuasive reading of Urlicht. Removed from the context of Mahler’s Second Symphony, where it serves as a vocal prelude to final movement, *Urlicht *can be challenging. Yet this performance by Genz and Vignoles is a strong reading of the piece, which shows both performers well.
The sound quality of this Hyperion recording serves the performances well, especially in rendering the range of dynamics and articulations Vignoles achieves on the piano. The sometimes close recording sometimes catches a breath from Genz, but it also serves to bring out his fine diction and nicely sustained pitches. It is a solid contribution which deserves attention. As to the presentation itself, Vignoles notes are reminiscent of the informative ones he contributed to his set of the complete chansons of Gabriel Faure. It is good to see his reference to Goethe’s comments about Des Knaben Wunderhorn, an essay which connects the anthology to the generations before Mahler who enjoyed its contents. The texts of the songs are reproduced with translation in English, as found in the previous release of Mahler’s Lieder by these performers on this label.
James L. Zychowicz