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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.’
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