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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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
11 Oct 2009
Orfeo at La Scala
Robert Wilson staged Salome at La Scala in 1987, installing a troop of student actors on the stage to enact some sort of abstract action flow that had no discernible relationship to the Salome libretto, meanwhile sung by concert dressed opera stars huddled on a corner of the stage.
Had the Kent Nagano pit not been appallingly lackluster perhaps some chance illuminations of the Strauss score might have been struck, as was Mr. Wilson’s intention.
Just now, 22 years later Mr. Wilson has struck out again, this time with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a few distinguished early music singers exercising abstracted hand and arm gestures and stilted dance movements, and a well-known Wozzeck screeching Orfeo in whiteface. Had Rinaldo Alessandrini not been in the pit there would have been no flashes of the Monteverdi genius, and as it was these were reduced to a very few.
The Alessandrini Monteverdi trilogy at La Scala has been eagerly anticipated, particularly after his sublime cycle of Monteverdi madrigals (complete) at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago. Mo. Alessandrini brings a restoration to these old scores much as faded and mutilated Renaissance paintings are imbued with vibrant original line and color through restoration. In the visual arts this is accomplished by complicated scientific process, in the spheres of music Alessandrini must rely on his dramatic intuitions.
He finds infinite colors and timbres to the narrower tones of old instruments and to the whiter production of the human voice. He hones the vowels, carves the consonants and sculpts the phrases of a pristine Italian, and he drives its rhythms and tempos to embrace larger periods. He generates the precise moment when emotion bursts into syllable and sentence. Under Alessandrini’s baton the Monteverdi word does indeed become the Orphic moment.
Robert Wilson is an architect. The art of architecture, it is said, is frozen music. He chose a Titian painting, Venus with Eros and an Organist, as his visual metaphor for the world’s first great opera. In the painting two small forests of cypress trees nearly converge in a strong perspective that carries our erotic imagination suggestively beyond the foreground dominated by a lush female nude scrutinized by the male organist twisting around from his keyboard.
Scene from Orfeo [Photo by Marco Brescia - La Scala Photographic Archives]
In Wilson’s version exactly twelve perfectly shaped trees are carefully frozen into a perspective space through his characteristic hard edge, sculptural lighting. Wilson replaces Titian’s sumptuous foreground nude and the leering organist with his Orpheus who dominates the foreground, rushing back and forth across the stage apron. Titian’s pastoral nudity was replaced by the off-white costumes (the flesh color of Titians’ Venus) that generically covered the shepherdesses and made the shepherds comically plumb-shaped rather than sveltely swain-shaped.
The familiar characters of this well-known myth were presented as elaborately dressed Renaissance mannequins who moved from frozen gesture to frozen gesture, Monteverdi’s tumbling torrents of words stopped in their tracks by Wilson’s motionless visuals. The Messaggera who delivers the emotional account of Euridice’s death was Sara Mingardo, known for her fine recordings with Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano that have earned her the reputation as the Maria Callas of early music. But for her extended second act monologue she was straight-jacketed by the staging and by a formless black dress, Alessandrini’s simple organ continuo unable to breath life into this great moment of early opera, sadly lost in the vast spaces of this huge theater.
Austrian baritone Georg Nigl was Orfeo. Though a credentialed early music singer he is better known on major European stages as a Wozzeck. He has a sizable voice and persona that is well able to fill large theaters. He lacks both a beautiful voice and a sympathetic presence, thus he was unable to project the strong humanity that overflows much mannerist art and particularly these emotionally heightened Monteverdi monologues. Uniquely, Wilson afforded him the only dynamism allowed on the stage, keeping him prominently moving in the foreground of the stage picture. His positioning on the stage apron sometimes activated acoustical quirks in the Scala auditorium, creating echos that heightened the freakishness of his detached note ornamentations.
Left to his own devices, Alessandrini shone in the sinfornie and the orchestral ritornelli, and very nearly got the extended madrigal that closes the second act into the spheres of great music. Other than the discomfort apparent in Mr. Nigl’s delivery of the Italian language, much of the beauty of the language was present in the otherwise Italian cast, though the finely detailed Musica of early music star Roberta Invernizzi was lost in the Wilson staging and in the vastness of La Scala. The Pluto of Giovanni Battista Parodi and the Proserpina of Raffaella Milanesi made no effect, while the Caronte of Luigi de Donato was buried under a silly costume. Only among the solo shepherds were there occasional glints of real, live performances.
Robert Wilson made important theatrical discoveries, and his innovations have enlivened our ideas of theater. He established his moment in the last third of the twentieth century, and is now working to preserve his legacy through the creation of his foundation. Given the formidable scope of his upcoming projects it is apparent that the foundation has become his atelier, and that projects like this Orfeo are stamped out in his mold. The sense of theatrical discovery that was once at the heart of his work was not present in his staging of this opera.
Rinaldo Alessandrini is the man of the moment, his discoveries of new depths in old music have uncovered musical vistas yet to be explored in both old and new music. This new sense of music theater deserves an original staging, one that hears this music, a staging that explores the excitement of Mo. Alessandrini’s discoveries rather than forces them into a dated mold.