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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
Louis Andriessen De Staat at the Proms
De Staat is a seminally important work. So much modern music stems from it, not only “serious” classical music but progressive popular music too. It “is” music theatre, for it’s designed to be experienced live, the visual effect part of the action.
At the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, it was wonderful to see the brass sections, carefully positioned at each side of the orchestra, catch the light, magnifying the blaze of sound. De Staat is so radical that it still sounds fresh after almost 40 years. Essentially, it’s a wild, almost savage piece that breaks all the rules of form and development that constitute formal music. But such manic, kinetic energy! Driving, compelling rhythmic patterns drive the piece forward. The patterns are circular, revolving on themselves relentlessly without beginning or end. Structurally, blocks of density are intersected by planes of sharp brightness.
De Staat is theatre, designed to be experienced live as its visual impact is very much part of the action. Thus two brass sections are positioned on each side of the orchestra, trombones and trumpets catching the light, so they shine in an ever more dazzling blaze. The harp is placed prominently, for it represents the plucked strings mentioned in the text.
De Staat is also interesting because it transcends text. It’s based on Plato’s The Republic where music is denounced as a form of subversion. The words matter. At early performances, audiences were given the text to read carefully before the beginning. so they’d retain the ideas rather than read them during performance. For De Staat transcends text. The singing is deliberately embedded into the music, almost abstract, like a cryptic code whose meaning goes deeper than surface words. Modern music doesn’t do simple word-painting. Meaning is absorbed, translated into abstract sound.
The texts are in ancient Greek, which most people don’t understand nowadays, which is all the more reason to focus on how the music itself expresses meaning, not just the words. The final chorus is illuminating for it quotes authoritarian dogma dictating what instruments and tonal modes may be used and which forbidden. “Musical change always invokes far-reaching danger. Any alteration in the modes of music is always followed by alteration in the most fundamental laws of the State”.
So Andriessen’s unremitting, hard planes of sound express extreme tension.This Proms performance, conducted by Lucas Vis, leading the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, celebrated the composer’s birthday, so wasn’t quite as distressful as some performances, where the relentless, pounding rhythms create severe anxiety. This is an ensemble for whom the work is basic repertoire - listen to the live recording, also by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, from the 1978 Holland Festival, included as a CD in the book by* Robert Adlington, Louis Andriessen : De Staat* (Ashgate 2004).
This sense of fear and danger is important, for the driving repetitions represent the idea of enforced conformity. Hence the need for tight, disciplined performance. The very structure of De Staat is meaning. As Andriessen has said, “there is no hierarchy in the parts”. The chorus is only one of the several units in the piece that function in parallel, rather like society itself. . Voices may be suppressed in authoritarian states, but abstract music can still speak. This pertains to much of Andriessen’s work for music theatre and opera, where the action “is” in the music rather than the concept of opera as narrative singing with music..
Andriessen has written several operas, some of which are well known, such a Writing for Vermeer. He’s collaborated fruitfully with Peter Greenaway for several years, reflecting their common interests in music and film. in 2008, Andriessen’s “film opera” La Commedia was featured at the Holland Festival. An excerpt from the opera, The City of Dis, was premeired at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
This Prom program was extremely well chosen, placing De Staat between Steve Martland’s Beat the Retreat and Cornelis de Bondt’s Closed Doors. Martland’s piece mixes early English music with progressive rock. It’s a cheerful act of irreverent anarchy, written in protest against new government laws on outdoors entertainment. De Bondt’s piece, from 1985, starts and ends with a deep sonic boom that reverberated nicely in the Royal Albert Hall. It’s part of a much larger work that pivots different threads of music history upon each other. That’s why there were two conductors, not in itself any big deal (Charles Ives did it decades ago). Like De Staat, the material circulates, disparate parts that can’t meld although as a whole they make a statement.
The Proms are broadcast every day on BBC Radio 3 and are available online, on demand for seven days after the performance. See www/bbc.co.uk/proms