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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..
06 Sep 2009
The Dream of Gerontius: Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago
For the eighteenth program of its seventy-fifth anniversary season the Grant Park Music Festival under the direction of its principal conductor Carlos Kalmar gave two performances of Sir Edward Elgar’s monumental oratorio for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, The Dream of Gerontius.
performance seen on 1 August 2009 John MacMaster sang the role of Gerontius,
the Priest and Angel of the Agony were performed by bass Paul Whelan, and the
Angel was sung by mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy. The significant parts
representing the Assistants in Part I as well as the Demons, Angelicals, and
Souls in Part II were performed by the Grant Park Chorus as led by its director
Elgar’s composition, based on a text by Cardinal John Henry Newman,
depicts the final hours of the life of Gerontius, his dream and vision of
heaven, and finally his death, judgement, and passage into the company of souls
in Purgatory. Elgar’s libretto reflects the original poem by Cardinal
Newman, a number of verses having been deleted but none of the remaining text
showing any substantive changes. The orchestral prelude was played by the Grant
Park Orchestra with careful attention to succeeding moods unfolding during its
development. After the opening predominance of the lower strings, an alternate
melodic structure was introduced with the harp providing lightness or the
suggestion of upward movement. In the next wave of moods the brass section was
joined by a dramatic increase in percussion, suggesting the momentous end of
life but with strains of the previous, lighter melody still evident as a
counterbalance. After such a point of synthesis at the close of the prelude
Gerontius begins to perform a monologue of his realization that death is near.
In this role Mr. MacMaster invested the text with alternating shades of pathos,
fervor, and dramatic intensity as he pleaded for divine support at the time of
life’s passing. In response to an appeal to his mortal friends, the
Assistants modulated their initial choral participation to sound, alternately,
more importunate to God or more directly supportive of Gerontius. The Latin
prayers [Sanctus fortis; Miserere, Judex meus, etc.] which now served
to preface the petitions of Gerontius were sung by MacMaster with a heroic
dignity as the orchestra swelled in accompaniment to match the rising intensity
of Elgar’s score. When the tenor sings of a “fierce and restless
fight” within his soul, Kalmar enhanced the orchestral tempos skillfully
in order to underscore the mood of a battle. At this point the choral
Assistants further enumerated famous Biblical battles as a means to
“Rescue this Thy servant.” As if in response to this encouragement,
in the final segment of the first part of the Oratorio, the Priest sung by bass
Paul Whelan gave imperatives to the soul of Gerontius in his march toward
judgement. As the supportive voice at the time of death Whelan gave memorable,
lyrical force to his part, infusing a fine sense of legato into his
extended lines shared with the chorus of Assistants. He intoned the “Name
of God” with a declarative and steady, high pitch, so that the Soul was
now prepared — given this vocally impressive, additional support —
to face its maker with renewed courage.
In the second, longer part of the Oratorio the Soul of Gerontius, now
departed from life, sings much of his role in dialogue with the Angel. The Soul
seems to awaken from sleep and feels “an inexpressive lightness,” a
noticeable transition marking his death and passing into the afterlife.
MacMaster sings this introductory segment with clear anticipation, as he states
that a voice of distinctive melodic character can be heard nearby. The Angel
begins now her responses, at once leading and instructive, as the Soul
questions its further path to judgement. Allyson McHardy’s assumption of
the role of the Angel was nothing short of a vocal revelation. The
mezzo-soprano’s range, secure in all registers, is a decided asset in
this role, which requires a number of emotional transitions at differing vocal
levels. McHardy began her statements with liquid tones in which her
accompanying words to the Soul establish a sense of trust or reliance on the
ethereal figure. When asked why the impending judgment did not instill a sense
of fear, the Angel replies that “thou didst fear” while alive, thus
alleviating a sense of present dread. Yet in response to the Soul’s
question on the source of the “fierce hubbub,” the Angel reminds of
their proximity to the court of judgement. The tumult of voices heard
represents the demons who assemble to collect those souls fallen prey by their
previous sinfulness. As McHardy elaborated on this habitual behavior, her voice
ascended to dramatic high notes of confident intensity characterizing the
diabolicals, as they “claim their property.” A similar dramatic
communication returned as McHardy assured the Soul of a fleeting view of the
Lord at the moment of judgement and, even more, as she accompanied the Soul
across the threshold to the Choir of Angelicals. At the very moment when the
Angel announces that the judgement will begin, the Angel of the Agony enters to
intone a litany of prayers as an intercession. As sung by Whelan with exemplary
attention to diction, the pathos of the moment was brought to even greater
focus. The final praises and “Alleluia” sung by the Angel, as well
as her words of “Farewell” to the Soul of Gerontius were given a
special poignancy in McHardy’s closing piano notes. The ultimate
“Amen” as a welcome to the Soul by the Angelicals was sounded on a
sublime note of peace by the Grant Park Chorus.