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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..
09 Sep 2009
Fidelio from Glyndebourne and Medici Arts
Beethoven’s Fidelio is actually several works combined — a rescue opera in the grand style of the French revolution, a sentimental comedy focusing on mistaken identity, and a tragédie bourgeoise involving a husband, a wife, and their efforts to re-unite despite the actions of a relentless and implacable foe.
As if this were not enough, the opera is
also Beethoven’s political testament, an attack on tyranny and injustice
initiated (quite literally) with a trumpeted call to arms for the forces of
truth and fraternity. Fortunately, this confused (and some might argue,
irreconcilable) juxtaposition of genres contains some of the composer’s
most beautiful music, and lovers of the work will undoubtedly welcome these two
recently released recordings of Beethoven’s only completed opera. Both
performances date from 2006: an audio recording of a Glyndebourne production
featuring Anja Kampe, Torsten Kerl, and the London Philharmonic conducted by
Mark Elder, and a filmed performance (celebrating the opening of the new Palau
de les Arts of Valencia) with Waltraud Meier and Peter Seiffert accompanied by
the Community Orchestra of Valencia under Zubin Metha.
A comparison of these two productions — one a two CD set, and the
other a DVD — while inherently unfair, is revealing. From the first notes
of the overture it is obvious that the Gyndebourne production features the
better orchestra and more inspired conductor: throughout the performance
Elder’s direction of the LPO is a heavenly delight. This is not meant as
a criticism of Maestro Mehta, however, who still manages to create some
powerful moments while working with a much younger and less accomplished
orchestral ensemble. It is particularly regrettable that, unlike the Valencia
version, the Glyndebourne production does not include a performance of the
third Leonore overture before the second act finale (a tradition,
begun by Mahler in Vienna, which Metha wisely follows). The Gyndebourne
recording also features the better chorus (prepared by Thomas Blunt) —
“O welche Lust” is sung with excellent diction, wonderful dynamic
contrast, and superior balance by the British troupe. Elder’s direction
of the LPO in the performance of the Haydenesque introduction to the chorus is
Waltraud Meier is a dynamic and powerful presence as Leonore, and her
considerable talents are fully utilized in the Valencia production. The
contrast between the vocal styles of Meier and Kampe is nowhere more evident
than in “Mir ist so wunderbar” — Meier’s tone is
commanding and mature, whereas Kampe’s seems less so. This comparison
holds throughout the performances: Meier is simply more convincing and at ease
in the showcase arias and duets. Her performance of “O namenlose
Freude!” with Seiffert is remarkable, and is undoubtedly the happy result
of their frequent collaboration together in other roles (most recently in the
Met production of Tristan). Seiffert is less compelling when Meier is
not on stage, however. Torsten Kerl’s Florestan is more endearing: the
youthful tenor’s rendition of “Gott, Welch Dunkel hier” is
athletic and impassioned, and made all the more enjoyable by the special
touches added by the London Philharmonic’s wonderful accompaniment.
In the secondary roles each performance offers some special moments. Matti
Salminen is surpisingly comfortable in his role as Rocco, and even pulls off
the notoriously awkward “Hat man nicht auch Gold beineben” aria
beautifully. While the voice is at times strained and raspy, his expressive
presence, particularly in ensemble numbers, elevates the performances of his
fellow cast members. Brindley Sherratt’s Rocco is adequate in the
Glydnebourne version, but little more. Lisa Milne is impressive as Marzelline,
and displays an enthusiasm for her role which Ildikó Raimondi seems not to. The
rising Finnish star, Juha Uusitalo is an impressive and menacing Don Pizarro
(seeing him interact on stage with fellow-Finn Salminen in the “Es
schlägt der Rache Stunde” is a real treat), and Rainer Trost is a far
more convincing and lyric Jaquino than Andrew Kennedy, whose voice seems forced
and pinched throughout much of the performance.
Pierluigi Pier’Alli’s direction of the Valencia version features
some fascinating video effects. His creative use of the motif of chains and
prison bars (projected onto the screen on stage) which leads to
Florestan’s aria to open Act II is highly effective. Despite this, some
may find his otherwise rather conservative approach to much of the rest of the
work a trifle dull, and it is unfortunate that Deborah Warner’s edgy
Glyndebourne production can only be seen in a few photos in the album notes.
One welcomes Pier’Alli’s willingness to allow Meier an opportunity
to explore the full range of her dramatic abilities, particularly during the
prisoner’s chorus, where the soprano wanders the stage in a futile search
for Florestan — an unforgettable effect which she brings off
Because of the merits of each performance it is difficult to choose between
these two recordings. The Glyndebourne version is dynamic and more aurally
pleasing, but the added visual dimension of the Valencia recording is quite
powerful. Certainly, newcomers to Fidelio will appreciate the DVD
version more than a sound recording, even a relatively good one. I suspect that
those who already know the opera well will enjoy both of these new issues
— each performance brings out different facets of the work, an opera
which, despite its many flaws, remains one of the most enjoyable products of
Donald R. Boomgaarden
Dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans