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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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?
11 Oct 2009
Los Angeles “Ring” continues to amaze
It’s three down and one to go in the first-ever staging of Richard
Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at Los Angeles Opera. Following the
premiere of Siegfried, the third installment of this epic work of
music theater, it’s clear that director/designer Achim Freyer is a
The audience that packed 3,600-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the
September 26 afternoon event, was even more wildly enthusiastic about
Feyer’s work than it had been at the end of Rheingold and
Walküre that launched this $32-million project last season. (True,
there were “boos,” but they were almost totally inaudible against
the bravos heaped upon Freyer and his production team.) Yet one must ask
whether Freyer’s Wagner is as great as it seems. Has the director, whose
theory of theater was shaped in his native East Germany in Bert Brecht’s
Berlin Ensemble, really found a — if not the — key to
Wagner’s genius or has he rather created a spectacle that awes his
audience into breathless admiration?
Although Freyer is clearly a winner, the bigger question is how well Wagner
fares under his hand. Every director — even in this age of overheated
Regieoper — claims to do what the composer wanted done to
realize his intentions. Let’s start with Freyer’s most obvious
triumph: he leaves one with the desire to see the segments of this
Ring again — an opportunity that will be available when LA Opera
stages three complete cycles of the tetralolgy in 2010. Freyer brings an
immense amount to Wagner; he makes every moment an overlay of meanings
involving symbols impossible to absorb and interpret in a single exposure. Yet
his approach to Siegfried, compared to his two earlier installments of
the cycle, is relatively minimalist. The stage is uncluttered, and largely
absent are the mammoth doubles of the major characters. The staging relies
heavily on effects achieved through sophisticated lighting.
Siegfried, although rich in event with the forging of the sword,
the slaying of Dragon Fafner and the launching of the love story that will
dominate Götterdämmerung, is by far the most difficult of the
Ring operas to stage. Wagner, viewing the four-part work as a
symphony, suggested that this third chapter is a scherzo, and that has prompted
some directors to introduce all sorts of funny-bone nonsense into the staging.
Freyer — happily — goes in another direction. Nothung, the sword,
is forged vocally without the trappings of the Village Blacksmith, and
Siegfried runs Fafner through with only a blue-lighted tube. Indeed, the dragon
that dwarfs the stage in many productions is an understated Disneyesque dwarf
in top hat.
Scene from Siegfried [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
One is relieved at the removal of such hackneyed attempts at
“realism.” Freyer keeps a tight lid on the scherzo idea. Humor in
Wagner? One recalls the waggish observations that Pfitzner’s monumental
Palestrina is Parsifal without the jokes.” The one line
in Siegfried that gets a laugh in this age of surtitles is the
hero’s observation as he removes Brünnhilde’s armor:
“That’s not a man!” Wagner hardly expected to split sides
Young Siegfried is — like young Parsifal — a pure fool with
everything to learn and only four hours to do so. It’s a heavy trip, and
Freyer offers all the help he can in hints and images to get the hero to his
goal. It’s the goal — Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde and
the great duet that follows - that is most problematic in this staging.
Brünnhilde, despite heavily incestuous intimations on the part of Father Wotan,
is still a virgin. In terms of sexual enlightenment, however, she is light
years ahead of Siegfried who has spent his early years tumbling about the woods
with only bears as companions. In the duet a huge distance is yet to be covered
in only half an hour of music. It’s here that Freyer offers so much help
that Wagner’s music suffers.
The wealth of imagery, lighting effects and those “invisible”
imports from Kabuki drama that move slowly about the stage are a study in
excess. Text is all important here, and as the curtain fell one wished for a
concert performance of the duet to underscore this fact. Freyer’s
decision to hide Brünnhilde in a haystack — plus a towering Afro and
billowing gown — offered little help. Indeed, although Freyer is out to
illuminate text and explain the story, he often detracts from the musical
excellence of this production. That excellence is largely the work of music
director James Conlon who knows this score note by note and has built an
orchestral second to none to do his bidding. His cast, furthermore, is without
weak links. True, John Treleaven and Linda Watson, his Siegfried and
Brünnhilde, are best viewed as adequate singers, who work with intelligent
sensitivity to realize Freyer’s intentions.
Superb, on the other hand, is Graham Clark’s portrayal of
Siegfried’s guardian dwarf Mime, a role to which he has claimed almost
sole ownership for two decades. As Wotan disguised as the Wanderer Ukrainian
Vitalij Kowaljow makes his mark as the most promising young singer to tackle
this role in recent seasons. Jill Grove’s Erda is definitive.
What is most strange about this Siegfried is that it is without
emotional impact — and perhaps Freyer wants it that way. His teacher
Brecht, after all, was out to put feelings on ice and make people think in his
didactic theater. The viewer is all too absorbed by Freyer’s approach; he
keeps one thinking — or guessing at least. He is demanding, and
it’s impressing that the audience responds as positively as it does. Yet
an occasional goose bump would provide welcome relief.
A final observation: Freyer grew up secured from the decadence of Hollywood
by the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall (the official East German designation for
that structure). Yet in Los Angeles one is always aware that Hollywood is right
next door, and there is much in Freyer’s Ring — the
streaming of colored patterns, the choreography of lighted tubes — that
brings that proximity to mind. On the other hand, had Wagner had this
technology at his fingertips, he — like Bach at a Bechstein — would
have gone bonkers. He would have abandoned his insistence upon
“real” trees and rocks and lost himself in the imagination in which
Achim Freyer indulges himself perhaps a bit too freely.
Götterdämmerung, which completes the Los Angeles Ring, plays from, 3 to 25 April, 2010. Three cycles of the Ring will be on stage between May 29 and June 26, 2010.