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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..
15 Sep 2009
Wigmore Hall Song Competition
‘It’s a personal choice’ / ‘Of course he won - he was the only one who sang songs’ / ‘I’ll be happy if anyone but the first one wins’ (he won) / ‘There’s only one possible choice - the third one’ (he came second)
Thus various Wigmore regulars on the outcome of the Song competition - but what can you expect? Cardiff is the same - ‘Outrageous! The Counter-tenor should have won’ / ‘She only won because she was the most polished’ / ‘The tenor ought to have won / and so on. Perhaps the first statement above is the most useful, since any judgment is going to be, and in a way it’s amazing that a jury so diverse can come to any sort of agreement at all. What was not in doubt, however, was that all of the finalists (and, indeed, many of those who did not make it that far) are very likely to have great careers ahead of them.
Marcus Farnsworth has a lovely, very light, sweet baritone voice, not unlike that of Simon Keenlyside, and his programme was both daring and reassuring - daring because he began not with a lollipop but with a very serious slice of Schubert, and reassuring because it had enough variety to please everyone. ‘Nachtstück’ is the kind of thing with which you might expect Goerne to open a recital, so Marcus did well to produce such a lovely, flowing legato at ‘Du heil’ge Nacht.’ Strauss’ ‘Gefunden’ was almost as daring, showcasing the singer’s reserves of power at the end, so it was a welcome relief that he followed it with Loewe’s ‘Hinkende Jamben,’ which got some laughs from the audience. He was perhaps at his best in the English group, showing his tenorial top notes in Butterworth’s ‘Think no more, lad’ and a smooth legato line in Britten’s arrangement of ‘The last rose of summer.’ He was eloquently accompanied by the very confident, extremely sympathetic Elizabeth Burgess, whose playing I have previously enjoyed in Oxford. Marcus won the First Prize.
The soprano Erin Morley’s programme did not appeal to me very much - it felt like too much Russian and just a nod to the great Lieder composers (no Schubert) - but then that’s a very personal remark! There’s no doubt that she has a lovely voice, very bright, forward and well focused, perhaps at this time more suited to the operatic stage than the recital platform. Rossini’s ‘La fioraia fiorentina’ showed her at her confident best, and Schumann’s ‘Liebeslied’ gave a hint of how she might develop as a recitalist. She was placed third in the final.
For me, Benedict Nelson was the most promising of the finalists, and he also had the best accompanist I heard in Gary Matthewman. Of course, one is influenced by choice of programme, and theirs seemed to me to show an excellent balance of styles and moods. At the moment, Benedict’s French is a little heavy to really catch the atmosphere of Duparc’s ‘La vie antérieure’ but his Mahler and Schumann suggested a maturity beyond that expected of someone who is only 26. ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ was a very ambitious choice, but he pulled it off well, showing a fine legato line at ‘Auf der Strasse steht ein Lindenbaum.’ Schumann’s ‘Die alten, bösen Lieder’ needed a little more colour and variety in the tone, but Gary’s nachspiel was finely done. Benedict came second in the final.
Sidney Outlaw has a real personality, and was probably the best communicator of the four. He was the audience favourite, but I felt he let himself down with some of his choices - ‘Erlkönig’ is simply too well known and it’s too easy to compare its performance to that of just about every great baritone, and the ‘American’ group felt like too much conforming to type. Kudos to him, though, for being the only one to actually sing something written in this millennium. I felt his baritone had not quite got the measure of the Fauré or the Duparc, but his Brahms showed much promise, especially in the darker parts of ‘Von ewiger Liebe.’ Sidney was placed fourth.
This was another testament to the power and position of the Wigmore Hall: an audience packed not only with the great and the good and the grey-haired, but with the volubly enthusiastic young, enjoyed four mini-recitals of exceptional promise, by singers chosen out of a vast pool of talent containing at least as many again who will surely go on to great things - I would single out the baritone Gerard Collett, the soprano Erica Eloff and the pianist James Bailleu, but I am sure that those who were present for all the stages will have their equally worthy choices. The Pianists’ prize was won by James Bailleu, and he and Gerard Collett won the Jean Meikle Prize for a Duo.