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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..
03 Aug 2009
Vivaldi: La fida ninfa
Although Antonio Vivaldi’s instrumental compositions were highly popular in his lifetime, and have been held in high regard throughout the centuries, most of his operas have been — until recently — relegated to obscurity.
This sad state of affairs is being rectified by the
wonderful new series of opera recordings available through the Naïve label,
part of its larger Vivaldi Edition project. Naïve’s most recent offering
in this series is a concert production of La fida ninfa, a work which
was premiered at the opening of Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico in January of
1732. One of the organizers of the event was the librettist, Francesco
Scipione, Marquis di Maffei. Scipione was a Jesuit-educated aristocrat who
specialized in Etruscology, dramatic theory, and classical philology —
but still managed to find time to participate in the War of the Spanish
Succession and, in his later years, write a famous theological tract attacking
Jansenist doctrines. The poet’s most famous literary effort was
undoubtedly his dramma, Merope, a work which served as one of the
models for Voltaire’s tragedy of the same name. Unfortunately
Scipione’s libretto for La fida Ninfa, an allegory on
matrimonial love replete with love-struck nymphs, grumpy pirates, and multiple
cases of mistaken identity, is less distinguished. While it is a credit to the
composer that he was still able to create an impressive work from this clichéd
literary material, the lack of a convincing plot line weakens the overall
impact of the opera.
More significant for modern listeners, however, is the fact that La fida
ninfa betrays the influences of the new musical style which manifested
itself most powerfully a year later in the work of Pergolesi — La
serva padrona. This new approach can be heard immediately in the overture
of Vivaldi’s work, which features short, repeated melodic motifs, a
decidedly homophonic texture, and the spare harmonic palette more typical of
the mid-century style than the high baroque. This impression is only
strengthened in the many beautiful solo arias and duets of the opera, where
there is an unmistakable emphasis on simplicity and clarity of formal
structures. Also indicative of this new style are the ensemble numbers which
end each of the three acts: the remarkably beautiful trio finale of Act I
(“S’egli è ver”), the quartet which concludes Act II
(“Così fu gl’occhi miei?”), and the duet/choral conclusion of
Act III (“Non temer”) sound much less like Vivaldi than they do
Pergolesi or even Mozart.
Musical highlights of this recording include the restrained virtuosity of
Verónica Cangemi as Morasto (her interpretation of the Act I aria “Dolce
fiamma” is particularly fine), and the musicality of Topi Lehtipuu
(Narete), who brings a relaxed and confident tone to all his solo arias.
Vivaldi lovers will especially enjoy Narete’s beautiful lament
(“Deh ti piega”) in Act II, where the very able conductor,
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, creates an astonishingly sensitive interplay between
the tenor and the orchestra. Lorenzo Regazzo is highly effective in his
near-buffo role as Oralto, the spurned and highly irritable pirate,
and Sandrine Piau portrays Licori, the faithful nymph, with great sensitivity
and an impressive command baroque vocal technique. While there is no shortage
of vocal fireworks in this recording (Cangemi’s virtuoso performance of
“Destino avaro” in Act II verges on the unbelievable) the pastoral
moments of La fida ninfa seem the most memorable: the haunting duets
“Dimmi pastore” (Act I) between Philippe Jaroussky (Osmino) and
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Elpina) and “Pan, ch’ognun venera”
between Lehtipuu and Jaroussky in Act III are spectacular. It is in these less
hurried sections of the opera that Spinosi’s orchestra displays its
wonderful musicality and attention to detail which are the hallmarks of the
Vivaldi recordings of the Ensemble Matheus.
La fida ninfa is not one of Vivaldi’s better efforts. The
music for the finale, which features a dialogue between Juno and Aeolus
(competently sung by Sara Mingardo and Christian Senn), is artificial and
uninspired. Even the Tempesta di mare which precedes the last scene is
a disappointment (through no fault of the orchestra) and does not measure up to
similar moments Vivaldi’s Seasons, for example. The fact that
this opera was composed in great haste (Vivaldi was not even the first choice
of the organizers of the theatre opening, having replaced their preferred
composer, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, at the last moment) is sadly apparent in
some of the music. Even so, the Ensemble Matheus’ fine performance of
this work is remarkable, and more than compensates for the occasional
weaknesses of the composition and blandness of Scipione’s libretto.
Donald R. Boomgaarden
Dean, College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans