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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
30 Aug 2009
Manon Lescaut at the Festival Puccini di Torre del Lago
Each year, the tiny Tuscan village Torre del Lago hosts a festival dedicated to its favorite son, Giacomo Puccini. This year’s Puccini Festival (10 July - 30 August) featured a “new” Manon Lescaut (a co-production with Opera del Nice Theater), its premiere garnering standing ovations for Marcello Giordani and Martina Serafin and accolades for Alberto Veronesi, the artistic director of the Festival.
What set this production apart was the inclusion of a prelude to Act II that had been part of an earlier draft of the work, along with a scene of the two lovers living happily in Paris. Aside from being too similar to Massenet’s Manon (‘adieu à la petite table’), Puccini cut the scene to move directly from the lovers’ flight from Amiens to Geronte’s mansion where Manon, having abandoned the penniless des Grieux, luxuriated as Geronte’s mistress. The fully orchestrated prelude had gone unperformed until Chailly’s 1984 recording of rarely performed works (a recording that is currently difficult to find). With this production, Maestro Veronesi performed the prelude as an integral part of the entire work.
Martina Serafin as Manon
A minuet in form, the prelude, rife with melancholy, evoked the flame of the lovers’ intense, but short-lived affair. More importantly, the prelude evidenced Puccini’s mastering of 20th century musical theater that incorporated Wagner’s rich symphonic approach and anticipated Janáček’s use of repetitive fragments (“interruption motifs”) and of his orchestration, often with programmatic origins, “capable of great sweetness [yet with] a roughness caused by the unblended layers of orchestra and by the seemingly unidiomatic writing in individual parts.” [John Tyrrell, “Janáček, Leoš [Leo Eugen],” Grove Music Online]
Guided by Maestro Veronesi, the Puccini Festival Orchestra has matured significantly over the past five years. In this production of Manon Lescaut, the orchestra traversed the difficult score masterfully, both in supporting the singers (à la Verdi) and in performing program music (such as the intermezzo between Act II and Act III) with aplomb. It was difficult, however, to appreciate all of the orchestra’s subtleties in the upper rows of the 3,500-seat open air auditorium.
Passion, even carnal passion, paradoxically devoid of erotic love and desire, inspired Verdian melodrama. Manon Lescaut, on the other hand, returned erotic expression as a central element of Italian opera. The erotic aspects of Manon Lescaut are expressed with increasing intensity by the two principals, Manon and des Grieux, from the youthful aria “Donna non vidi mai” (Act I), to the duet “Tu, tu amore tu” (Act II), to the aria “No! no!, pazzo son” (Act III), to the desperate “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” (Act IV). Marcello Giordani and Martina Serafin executed these roles with perfection. Giordani’s wide register and power filled the auditorium, recalling the finest of performances by Domingo in the mid-1980s. Serafin, mostly noted for her performances of Wagner and Strauss, added a Wagnerian touch to “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” that aligned well with Veronesi’s conducting, her performance of the role being closer to that of Renata Scotto rather than that of the more lyrical Mirella Freni. Comprimario roles — Lescaut (Giovanni Guagliardo), Edmondo (Cristian Olivieri), Geronte (Alessandro Guerzoni) — were adequate, yet overwhelmed by Giordani and Serafin.
Martina Serafin as Manon and Marcello Giordani as des Grieux
Significant weaknesses of this production arose from the contributions of Paul-Emile Fourny (director) and Poppi Ranchetti (sets). Little attention was paid to the singers’ acting . And the staging included a crowd of mimes (ostensibly naked) and dancers, the relevance of which remained unclear. The set transformed from a Renaissance ninfeo by Bramante (a 15th century architect) to a villa near Rome that deteriorated in appearance from one act to another (seemingly intended to mirror the degradation of Manon and des Grieux), all having a bewildering effect.