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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..
26 Oct 2009
Pascal Dusapin: Faustus, the Last Night
Pascal Dusapin (b. 1955) is an engaging composer, and his recent works includes a chamber opera entitled Faustus, the Last Night, a unique setting of the legend and a fine contribution to modern opera.
This version of Faust
differs from others, since it eschews the traditional narrative which starts
with Faust signing a pact with the devil, moves to the sometimes picaresque
adventures of the ensorcelled Faust, and ends with the devil claiming his soul.
Instead of retelling the story, Dusapin assembled the English-language libretto
from various sources to create a text focused on the trials and temptations of
Faust during the minutes before his fateful contract with the devil is due. In
a sense Dusapin takes his cue from Marlowe’s climactic soliloquy from
the end of his Tragical History of Doctor Faustus:
Now hast thou but one bare hour to live,
And then though must be damned perpetually,
Stand still, you ever-moving spheres of heaven,That time may cease ad midnight
O lente, lente currite noctis equi!
The stars move still; time runs; the clock will strike;
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damned. . . .
(Act 5, lines 57-61; 66-68)
In creating this work, Faust is not necessarily a character worth saving,
with the inanity of his diabolic pact made painfully clear, and Mephistopheles
characterized with the dimensionality which makes him more than a minion of
Satan, but approaching the persona of Lucifer in challenging the nature of
mortal existence. The conversational tone of Faustus, the Last Night may be
traced to the kind of opera Strauss created in Capriccio, in the medium
foregoes the depiction of physical action to result instead in a shift of
thought and concept. (The concept is also used in Henri Pousseu’s
Votre Faust (1969), which revolves around a discussion about the prospect of
an opera on the subject of Faust.) The conversational aspect of
Dusapin’s Faustusalso echoes some elements of early opera, which
resulted in various settings of familiar myth. Akin to those early
seventeenth-century works, music in Faustus serves as a means to an end, a way
for Dusapin to convey the verbal ideas effectively. At times, too, the score
functions as a kind of soundtrack in order to allow the work to shift between
scenes smoothly and offer cues to mood and tone.
The performers as a whole conveyed the work effectively. The
English-language text emerges clearly, and while listeners should not have a
problem with the enunciation, subtitles are possible in the original language,
as well as French and German. Since the libretto is not published with the DVD,
those interested in exploring the text further may use the subtitles as a point
of departure (future DVDs like this would benefit from the inclusion of the
full text in the digital medium, as a matter of convenience for the user). As
Mephistopheles, Urban Malmberg personifies the role. His command of the part is
remarkable and serves as a foil for the doomed Faustus, as depicted by Georg
Nigl. At times Malmberg and Nigl overlap their lines, as found in the score,
and this underscores the blurring of their characters in this work. In
Dusapin’s Faustus, Mephistopheles can be as absorbed in thought as
Faust. In lieu of a stage devil who simply represents the diabolical forces,
Mephistopheles offers some comments which can be as intriguing as the ones
Dusapin puts into Faust’s mouth.
This resembles the interchangeability which occurs in modern productions of
Don Giovanni in the singers who portray the title character and his servant
Leporello sometimes switch their roles between performances. In this sense,
Malberg and Nigl work well together in this work to create a good dynamic, and
the other principals respond well to it. The angel is one of the more engaging
of Dusapin’s characters, and Caroline Stein gave the role the level
of definition to counterbalance Mephistopheles. The other two characters,
Robert Wörle as Sly (derived from the character in the prologue to
Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) and Jaco Huijpen as Togod offer
various perspectives on the dilemma in which Faust finds himself. Throughout
the performance the conductor Jonathan Stockhammer allows the orchestra to
support the singers deftly. His tempos reflect his sensitivity to the text,
which emerges clearly in an engaging reading of the score for this new version
of the Faust legend.
James L. Zychowicz