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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.
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.