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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..
20 Oct 2009
Brilliantly Simple 'Tolomeo' by ETO
ETO’s production of Tolomeo for one night only at the Britten Theatre, capitalizes brilliantly on the necessary simplicity of this chamber-like opera, written at a time when Handel could no longer call upon fabulous sets and stunning effects, relying only upon great singing - and what singers he wrote it for, in fact the grand trio of Senesino, Cuzzoni and Bordoni.
James Conway’s production is beautifully sparse, using only wood and sand to create the shore upon which the characters are tested, and the cast are with him all the way, turning in performances of authentic power and directness.
The plot centres upon the perfidy of Cleopatra, who exiles her eldest son Tolomeo, condemns his wife Seleuce to slavery, and raises her younger son Alessandro to supplant him: these three are shipwrecked on an island ruled over by Araspe and his sister Elisa, who fall in love with Seleuce and Tolomeo respectively. Instead of opting for a grandiose royal sing-off, Conway goes for humanizing the characters, making the lovesick sympathetic even in their cruelty, and the shipwrecked and love-lorn intensely believable. The message seems to be that this music gives voice to the plaints of all the wretched, separated and dispossessed — and the fusion of this approach with grand Handelian arias works wonderfully well.
Clint van der Linde impressed me with his Oberon when he was a student at the RCM, so it was especially good to hear him as a fully developed artist, his singing confident and powerful once ‘Cielo ingiusto’ was out of the way. He was completely convincing as the shipwrecked king, both noble and touching in his grief for his presumed loss, and his arias were sung with the assurance and expressiveness which mark out a real Handel singer — ‘Torna sol per un momento’ was superb, every phrase finely placed and sung with sweet poignancy.
Katherine Manley bears a passing resemblance to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and her singing is of almost equal intensity — she was a very credible and sympathetic Seleuce, her acting as committed as her singing was pure in tone, and ‘Fonti amiche, aure leggere’ could hardly have been more eloquently sung.
Rachel Nicholls was an articulate and richly-toned Elisa, James Laing a sweet-voiced Alessandro, and Neil Baker an exceptionally strong Araspe — the last is a complex character, not the usual blustering villain, so it made sense to have a somewhat lighter voice than the usual Handelian basso in this part.
Scene from Tolomeo
The orchestra — especially the wind sections — played with delicacy and verve under the supportive direction of John Andrews, and the production as a whole left you wondering why this beautiful music is not more often heard. If you live near Malvern, Exeter or Cambridge, you will be able to catch it on October 29th, November 5th and November 19th respectively — most highly recommended.