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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..
02 Aug 2009
Verdi: La Forza del Destino
This looks like a winner, with an esteemed conductor (Zubin Mehta), top-rank cast (Violeta Urmana, Marcello Giordani, Carlo Guelfi), and a production directed by Nicholas Joël that originated at the Opernhaus Zürich, a house that takes some chances and scores some successes.
But the beauty expected doesn’t even go skin deep. While Verdi’s great score keeps La Forza del Destino in the standard repertory, the problematic libretto requires both sharp intelligence and inspired imagination. Sure, one can go back to the classic video with Tebaldi and Corelli, where the fabric of the cheap sets ripples every time a character brushes past. At least their singing mesmerizes, distracting the 21st century viewer from the 19th century production values. Despite the quality of the performers here, that magic act does not repeat itself.
To be fair to Nicholas Joël, the booklet credits state that the production was “restaged by Timo Schlüssel.” All that matters is that the result of the men’s work feels like an elaborately costumed concert performance. The chorus stand in blocks or move in unison. The actors usually occupy a small space near the front of the stage and seldom interact convincingly. The costumes of Franca Squarciapino, while well-made, all seem to have come straight from the cleaner’s. Even after a battle-scene the two Dons look immaculate. Ezio Frigerio’s sets barely distinguish between the opera’s varied settings, with the final scene being the lamest. Leonora’s mountain hideaway is simply a barred cage, like one would see at some dreadful old-time zoo. Working in such forlorn circumstances, even the most vibrant of performers would struggle. As commendable as their vocal efforts may be, these singers need more direction to be effective. Violeta Urmana is a very healthy Leonora, with that pitiful loaf of bread for her meal apparently having a substantial carbo load. Perhaps needless to say, the effort to make her convincing as a male produces laughable results. But close the eyes and the ears will hear a substantial voice that can meet all of the challenging role’s demands, often with attractive power. Carlo Guelfi delivers a “shades of black” interpretation of Don Carlo, Leonora’s vengeful brother, but again, he delivers the goods vocally.
Marcello Giordani comes across as more committed to portraying a character, and his Don Alvaro does have both nobility, pride, and the requisite fatalism. As is typical with this busy singer, the middle voice sounds as good as any tenor today, but the top range is variable - sometimes ringing out as tenor fans love, and other times turning hoarse, constricted. Julia Gertseva’s Preziosilla can be counted a success in so far as the character is not nearly as annoying as she can be. Roberto Scandiuzzi’s Padre Guardino and Bruno De Simone’s Fra Melitone fade into the grayness of the production’s dim inspiration.
Zubin Mehta doesn’t try to prettify the score, letting its occasionally crass martial music roar away. The singers are always well-supported, and the forces of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, where this performance took place in 2007 (TDK doesn’t give any more time information), play idiomatically.
And to get really picky, TDK could do a better job of graphically identifying which of the two discs is which, as they have identical faces except for very tiny lettering with the disc number tucked away under the copyright. Go for the Tebaldi/Corelli, if it can be found.