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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
15 Sep 2009
Handel/arranged by Mendelssohn: Israel in Egypt
If, dear reader, a desire has ever swept over you (a desire such as a pregnant woman's craving for vanilla ice cream with pickles) to hear music reminiscent of both Messiah and the Fingal's Cave overture, CPO is just the musical ice cream parlor/deli for you.
Felix Mendelssohn famously resurrected masterpieces from Johann Sebastian Bach that had, unbelievably, slipped into obscurity in the early 19th century. But he didn’t stop there. This set revives Mendelssohn’s reorchestration of Handel’s Israel in Egypt.
The finely detailed booklet essay by Thomas Synfozik (as translated into English by Susan Marie Praeder) explains the circumstances of the work’s creation and its debut. Apparently Mendelssohn’s version of Handel’s oratorio enjoyed some popularity for a time. In the last few decades, however, a greater appreciation has developed for this and other works by Handel as the composer himself set them (admittedly, with innumerable variations for cast and venue differences).
The guiding force of this performance is Hermann Max, whose booklet biography places him as one of the “key figures” in the development of “authentic performance” in Germany. So we have the oxymoron here of inauthentic authenticity - Mendelssohn’s rewrite of Handel for another time’s tastes is played here with respect for the musical traditions of Mendelssohn’s time.
Ultimately, all that matters is the quality of the performance, and the set qualifies as a success. Max’s orchestra, Das Kleine Konzert, suffers from none of the demerits often associated with “historically informed performance.” Strings, though not large in number, do not scratch and rasp, horns do not bleat. Rhythms are flexible yet disciplined.
All of the six soloists - in a piece with relatively few solo arias for its length - all sing well. One of the two sopranos - the track listing makes any further identification impossible - does have such a piercing, high-lying tone that she resembles a boy soprano. That may well be intentional. The Rheinische Kantorei has a dominant role, and they sing with clarity and color.
Mendelssohn’s version as performed here comes in at just a little over 80 minutes, requiring a second disc. For the time being, most fans of Handel’s oratorio will surely prefer to hear his work as he set it, but this makes an entertaining supplement. Also entertaining are the photos of Hermann Max in the booklet, whose remarkable head of hair suggests what Herbert von Karajan would like with an Afro.