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It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
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.
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.