Recently in Reviews
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
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.