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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.
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.