Recently in Reviews
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
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.