06 Aug 2009
On deception at Sferisterio Festival, Macerata, Italy
L’inganno is this year’s theme at the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy.
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..
L’inganno is this year’s theme at the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy.
Derived from the Spanish word engañar (to deceive), inganno (deception) is presented by new productions of Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly and La traviata, by the world premiere of Matteo D’Amico ‘s Le Malentendu,by Handel’s oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo sul disanganno and by Ugo Betti’s play Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia.
The production of Don Giovanni was specifically designed for the Teatro Lauro Rossi, a 400-seat gem from the 17th century. Staging is simple: two black walls, three large Plexiglas mirrors and an oversized white bed. Two of the mirrors are placed so that the theater’s boxes and loggione become an integral part of the scene. The third mirror is suspended from above showing the stage and bed. The metaphor is clear: sexual drive animates the protagonist and lives in all the other characters, but it is also a motor to deceiving, and cheating on, one another. However, this choice is not meant to narrow everything down to sex and to the cheating and deception involving sex. Don Giovanni’s tragedy descend from his determination to achieve happiness and power only through deceiving and cheating by the means of sex, irrespective of how this is obtained . This staging requires young, handsome and athletic singers with, of course, excellent voices and experience.
Pier Luigi Pizzi’s direction demands, literally, an acrobatic performance for many singers but acting was always of very high quality. The singers chosen for the production are all accustomed to large theatres in Italy and abroad (e.g., La Scala and the Met) and not to a small theater such as the Teatro Lauro Rossi. As a consequence, they sang too loudly. A stentoreous Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and a stubbornly passionate Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvera) were the stars. Both had perfect vocalisation and diction. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna) tended to scream such that her diction was not understandable. Marlin Miller (Don Ottavio) had difficulties with the upper range. The remaining performers were good but not excellent. The music director, Riccardo Frizza, should have provided suitable guidance in establishing a proper balance. In addition, his conducting was deficient because of the lack of pathos and of the uncertain tempi throughout the performance.Scene from Don Giovanni
In the second opera in this series, Madama Butterfly, Pinkerton deceives little Butterfly by not taking his wedding vows seriously, by abandoning Butterfly and by subsequently marrying Kate. Performed at the open-air Arena Sferisterio di Macerata, Daniele Callegari, conducting the Orchestra Regionale delle Marche (the same orchestra as in Don Giovanni), evoked a remarkably better musical experience. We feel the subtleties of Puccini’s score (the familiar 1906 Opéra Comique version): from the Japanese folk melodies to the enthralling lyricism; from the matter of fact conversational pieces to the tragic denouement. The Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”, under the direction of David Crescenzi, ingeniously appear in Act II as a long procession on the 130-meter stage.
The sets and direction propose a “visionnaire” Japan – inspired by Pierre Loti’s blend of narrative and travelog. In front of the enormous wall of the Sferisterio is Butterfly’s white, spotless little house in a garden adorned by a cherry tree. By Act II, the verdant garden is transformed into a barren landscape. The widely-acclaimed Raffaella Angeletti performed the title role. Despite her petite physique, she possesses a powerful, yet delicate voice. She easily traverses the tonal range demanded by the role, her legato and phrasing being particularly noteworthy. Massimiliano Pisapia performed a credible Pinkerton with a generous tenor voice supported by a clear timbre. Although he is technically a “tenore spinto”, he has an excellent register particularly in the central tonalities. Claudio Sgura (Sharpless) and Annunziata Vestri (Suzuki) are deserving praise for their performances.Scene from Madama Butterfly
The 61-year old Mariella Devia appeared as the protagonist in this production of La traviata, a role portraying a youngish consumptive. Nonetheless, she was magnificent, without the slightest sign of fatigue. She turned from bel canto in the first act, to hectic realism in the second act and to the pale voice of the third act. Alejandro Roy was an effective Alfredo with a big voice displaying good phrasing and a remarkable flexibility in the upper extension. On the other hand, the trim, athletic Gabriele Viviani was barely credible as Alfredo’s father, especially in the dramatic scene and concertato at the end of the second act.Scene from La traviata
Violetta is on stage during the overture where the opera seemingly unfolds as a long flash back of the dying protagonist’s life. Her guests resemble ghosts. At the insistence of censors, the opera was originally set in and around Paris circa 1700. This production is set in Paris circa 1880-1890 (the Third Republic) not 1853 (the Second Empire) when the work was first performed. We smell the perfume (and the opium) of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). It is not a realistic staging. For example, in the second act, Flora’s guests wore their large hats throughout the party—a symbol of the strong conventions of the upper class of the Third Republic. But this was not the custom at that time. Mariotti’s musical direction kept a good balance between the pit and the stage. It was effective, innovative and passionate in the first act overture and in the third act prelude. The remainder of the performance, however, was merely ordinary. Overall, this was not a noteworthy production or performance.
Giuseppe Pennisi –based on the July 23rd, 24th and 25th performances.