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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.
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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).
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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..
25 Oct 2009
Baldassare Galuppi: Jahel
Dr. Charles Burney, who in August 1770 heard Galuppi’s singing girls
at the Incurabili, one of Venice’s four competing Ospedali or
musical orphanages, admired both their excellent performing standard
(“indeed all were such as would have merited and received great applause
in the first operas of Europe”), and the quality of the music that the
aging maestro was still able to write for them: “ it is generally allowed
here that his last operas, and his last compositions for the church, abound
with more spirit, taste, and fancy, than those of any other period of his
Had Burney visited Venice and the Incurabili short earlier, on May 24, he
might have attended the premiere of Jahel, a Galuppi oratorio recently
unearthed at the Zurich Central Library in Switzerland — probably a
remake of the score already performed at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in 1747
and 1748. By 18th-century standards, 23 years was quite a long time-span in the
change of musical taste. Perhaps that’s why in 1772 Galuppi reverted to
the same subject on a different libretto and with a larger cast of characters
under the title Debbora prophetissa, but the core story remained the
same, based on chapters 4-5 of Judges in the version provided by the
Latin Vulgate Bible.
Actually, despite the triumphs gathered by his operas in London, Saint
Petersburg and Vienna, nowhere did Galuppi enjoy more popular acclaim than as a
composer of Latin oratorios on Bible subjects for the Ospedali of his
native Venice. It is reported that his Tres pueri hebraei in captivitate
Babylonis — premiered in 1744 at the Mendicanti — scored some
hundred (paying) performances, a feat comparable to those of modern musical
theater. Unfortunately, the 1770 version of Jahel is all we are left
with in this genre, since two more oratorios surviving in musical sources
(Adamo caduto of 1747) and Il sacrificio di Jephtha of 1749)
are in Italian.
At the outset of the eighteenth century, the language of oratorios at the
Incurabili became exclusively Latin, to remain so under the musical
directorship of Porpora, Jommelli, Cocchi, Ciampi, and Baldassare Galuppi. A
similar trend affected more or less the remaining three Ospedali.
Although the librettists’ choice was for a simplified variety of Latin,
aping at the stock imagery from contemporary cantata and opera seria
texts, one wonders whether the traditional status of Venice as a target for
multinational operagoers could account for such an unexpected association
between Latin and bel canto on a scale even larger than in Catholic
Hearing those notes again within the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — the
‘Sistine Chapel of Venice’ studded with masterpieces by Tintoretto,
Titian and Tiepolo — was well worth a trip. As to the actual merit of the
performance, one might regret that a few arias were pruned of their da capo, or
that a harpsichord was substituted to the organ stipulated in the continuo
section. Nevertheless, the sparse period band Orchestra Barocca di Bologna,
some ten instrumentalists led by Paolo Faldi, sounded well attuned to style
requirements, with rhythmic stamina and accurate tuning generally deserving
Title page of Jahel [Zentralbibliothek Zürich]
Not all the six singing ladies would have deserved the same applause as
their early counterparts, either out of lacking experience or worn-out voices
(the latter was probably the case for Candace Smith in the role of Sisara). Yet
both sopranos Pamela Lucciarini in the title role and Silvia Vajente (Debbora)
delivered terrific amounts of passagework, competing on a tight edge as to
projection and clarion notes. In the end, Vajente apparently won by a neck
thanks to a clearer diction and to the sensuous rendering of her aria
“Rosa et lilio”, accompanied by a pair of obbligato mandolins. As
Barac, mezzo Elena Biscuola unsheathed lovely dark color, accomplished
technique and dramatic panache. Her climactic duet with Vajente (“Fugato
jam maerore”, just before the final ensemble) was also praiseworthy.
Patrizia Vaccari, a coloratura soprano of considerable experience, delivered
a defiant rendering of “Non horret cor forte”, much in the vein of
Constanze’s “Martern aller Arten”. The taxing
‘storm’ aria for Haber, “Pugnent nubes fulminando”,
emphasized the good natural qualities of young soprano Laura Antonaz, such as
sterling color and easiness in ascending to the highest pitches. Her coloratura
technique needs further refinement, though.