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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.
23 Aug 2009
The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière
Although the cutesy title sounds like something conjured up by a community
college marketing intern working for a mid-sized city orchestra’s ticket
office—where every concert featuring Wagner and Brahms gets the sobriquet
“Teutonic Titans”—don’t be put off by the moniker. This film is a brilliant adaptation of Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals that is totally faithful to the composer’s music.
The development of opera in Italy is largely unthinkable without the
madrigal. Although the madrigal was a highly sophisticated musico-poetic form
featuring advanced harmonies and subtle texts of great literary value, it was,
after all, a choral form meant for unstaged performance. Yet the dramatic power
of the madrigal was such that monody—an early form of recitative--would
eventually evolve from it. What director John la Bouchardière and the members
of I Fagiolini have done is to demonstrate in a staged version the dramatic and
rhetorical power of Monteverdi’s madrigals.
The Fourth Book of Madrigals for 6 voices (1603) is perhaps
Monteverdi’s most famous book of madrigals because they were used by the
composer to adumbrate the principles of the seconda prattica, that is,
madrigals in which the composition of the music followed the lead of the
rhetoric of the poetry. The Fourth Book is also notable for the high quality of
the texts, consisting of poems by Giovanni Guarini (Il pastor fido)
and Torquato Tasso among others. The 19 madrigals of the book share an
emotional intensity expressive of the ebb and flow of a profound love. What the
creators of this film have done is to pair each of the six singers with an
actor and then to stage the performance as though it were six couples who
coincidentally are having dinner at a contemporary restaurant. This allows each
of the singers to have a dramatic foil, a person who is the object of the
subjective text. This is a brilliant conceit and it works spectacularly well.
What is even more remarkable is that this movie is a studio filming of the work
that was originally performed live on stage. It is hard to imagine the
concentration involved in performing highly chromatic madrigals with the
performers not being in close proximity, and at time not even facing one
The film introduces a personalization of the intense emotional drama,
alternating its focus among the various couples and even allowing for visual
flashbacks as the music unfolds. Thus, we can be given the “back
story” visually (for example, a past argument) as the couple in question
grieves for a split up that is about to take place. Although they have no words
to say, the task for the six actors is especially daunting as they must express
the rhetorical and dramatic power of the madrigals utilizing only facial cues
and body gestures and avoiding the overly melodramatic style of silent film
Another aspect of this film that I found particularly satisfying is that a
number of the madrigals are performed attacca. The elision of the performances
of the madrigals heightens their poetic and dramatic unity, even when the texts
of the madrigals are by different authors.
Madrigals of this sort were considered to be musica reservata, that is,
music of extraordinary complexity and subtlety that was meant to be appreciated
primarily by a highly educated and relatively small elite. As such, seconda
prattica madrigals are often a tough go for the uninitiated and especially
so for the typical college music appreciation student. This film makes explicit
the drama that is inherent in the music and poetry and can, therefore, do a
great deal to promote appreciation of Monteverdi’s madrigals.
The members of I Fagiolini sing with tremendous expressivity, flawless
intonation, and amazing vocal technique. So convincing was their performance
that it was not difficult at all to suspend disbelief at watching 21st century
couples in a restaurant sing Italian madrigals while breaking up before the
first course. This is a highly recommended DVD that should prove attractive to
both opera lovers and early music devotees.
William E. Grim