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On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
20 Sep 2009
Die schöne Müllerin by Mark Padmore, Wigmore Hall
Schubert’s first song-cycle is a perfect choice with which to open a
new concert season, and the Wigmore Hall was packed on Friday evening in
anticipation of this recital by tenor Mark Padmore, much admired for the focus
and concentration of his ‘story-telling’, and Paul Lewis, one of
the most expressive and poetic of pianists today.
In the event, this was a controlled and precise rendition of Die schöne
Müllerin, thoughtfully conceived and executed with commitment and
integrity. The contrasts and juxtapositions of the text — as the wanderer
fluctuates between hope and desperation — were conveyed by skilfully
controlled oppositions of dynamic, tonality and tempo. Thus, a perfectly paced
and well-structured whole was enriched by carefully considered gestures: for
example, small hesitations — before Padmore’s exquisite
pianissimo of ‘Das Wasser’ in ‘Das Wandern’
(‘Journeying’), or preceding the piano’s shift to the minor
key half-way through ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where to?’), to name
but two of many such subtleties — enhanced the fluctuations between
excitement and longing, between optimism and despair. Similarly, the energy of
Lewis’s introduction to ‘Halt’ (‘Halt!’) captured
the young man’s eager exhilaration; while, the final, weighty, assertive
chords of ‘Ungeld’ (‘Impatience’) and
‘Mein!’ (‘Mine!’) conveyed the surety, and
misguidedness, of his conviction that “Dein ist mein Herz, und sol les
ewig bleiben” (“My heart is yours, and shall be forever!”).
Moreover, a sudden accelerando at the concluding line of ‘Die
böse farbe’ (‘The hateful colour’) communicated the agony
felt at departure, underlying the impassioned cry, “Zum Abschied deine
Hand!” (“give me your hand in parting!)
Indeed, in many ways the performers seemed to have exchanged their
conventional roles: from the rich assertive gestures of the opening bars of
‘Das Wandern’, it was evident that it was Lewis’s
accompaniment that would propel the musical and dramatic continuity. The piano
was both scene-setter and protagonist: rippling with the recurring arpeggiac
echoes of the brook, Lewis’s accompaniment both depicted the scenes and
source of the tragedy and embodied the inner turmoil of the wanderer’s
mind as he struggles with the fickle ‘murmuring friend’ which lulls
him to his Fate - a fusion of inner and outer, of man and the natural
environment which is truly Romantic.
In contrast, Padmore seemed less implicated, more objective, a teller of a
tale. Making frequent use of a fragile, haunting head voice, he may have kept
his distance from the young lover’s turmoil, but that is not to imply
that sang inexpressively. The tenor’s restraint in the final lines of
‘Pause’ — “Ist es der Nachklang meiner Liebespein/Sol
les das Vorspiel neuer Lieder sein?” (“Is this the echo of my
love’s torment/Or the prelude to new songs?”) — evoked the
bitter-sweet nature of the young man’s love, and his growing
self-knowledge. The octave rise on “Leibesnot”,
(“Anguish’), in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ (‘The beloved
colour’), the touching intensification and colouring of “mein
Herz” in ‘Ungeduld’, the guileless tenderness of the
timorous, pained questions “Wie welk, wie blaβ? … Wovon so
naβ?” (“Why faded, why pale? … What makes you
wet?”) in ‘Trockne Blumen’ (‘Withered Flowers’)
similarly demonstrated an impressive and coherent attention to detail.
Yet, one could not help feeling that Padmore’s delivery was rather
limited in tonal range, and thus in emotional variety. Over-use of a withdrawn,
plaintive timbre, together with a marked absence of vibrato throughout,
resulted in a weakening of dramatic impact, as familiarity weakened the meaning
and effect. Padmore’s diction, however, was excellent, even in the
‘busier’ numbers, such as ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The
Hunter’) where the pace and energetic accompaniment were no hindrance to
clarity. But, both performers seemed more at ease in the quieter, tranquil
songs, and here the ensemble was outstanding. Lewis’s understated
repeating rhythmic patterns in the closing two songs created an air of
inevitability as the distant call of the brook itself lured the wanderer, and
the audience, to its depths.
This was a genuinely unified conception and performance. One may like
one’s Schubert more fervent, more wrought or more turbulent, but Padmore
and Lewis offered a reading of clarity and cohesion, shaping and sustaining the
emotional and narrative journey, and creating moments of great sadness,
serenity and beauty along the way.