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Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
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