30 Oct 2009
Verdi's ”Trilogy“ at Parma
For Italy’s opera community, October is Verdi’s month. The composer was born near Busseto (now part of Parma Province) on October 10, 1813.
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.’
For Italy’s opera community, October is Verdi’s month. The composer was born near Busseto (now part of Parma Province) on October 10, 1813.
Parma devotes the months to a major Festival, with other activities in nearby towns. Parma’s Verdi Festival aims at producing, by 2013, a boxed set of Teatro Regio DVDs with all Verdi’s operas in a special edition.
In Florence, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino produced “the big three” — Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata — heard together on three successive nights. These were all entirely new productions by a young team, specialists in low cost but innovative work. This festival, a co-production with the elegant, classical Teatro Romolo Valli will continue in Reggio Emilio, “Verdi country”, but will not be heard in Parma.
Scene from Il Trovatore
Prices were quite low by European standards. The house was sold out in the first week of bookings, proceeds reaching € 600.000, about two thirds of the cost. As comparison, ticket sales in Italian houses cover, on average, about 12% of production costs. Nearly 25% of the audience was made up of young people under 26. Usually, the average of the audience is around 55 in Italian opera houses. For many of them, it was the first time they’d been in an opera house so they looked enthralled.
Ripa di Meana and his team (Edoardo Sanchi, set design, Silvia Aymonimo costumes, Guido Levi lighting). Guido Levi in charge of lighting.see the three operas as a single piece of musical theatre in three parts, viz. Rigoletto as a dark introduction in various shades of black and grey, Il Trovatore as a fantastic tragedy in blue and red, and La Traviata as a flowery dream.
This Rigoletto is “noir” rather than a dark introduction to the cycle. The entire plot is played in a bleak night. Very simple elements on the huge stage of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale:a movable wall squeezing the protagonists in a deadly tie, an oversized period car (a 1940s Buick?) where the Duke consummates his orgies, a small white doll house for Gilda, and old boat on the Mincio for the final scene. It is a tragedy without any glimmer of hope, not even in Caro Nome, or in the Love Duet.
Stefano Ranzani’s baton and the Maggio Musicale Orchestra (one of the very best orchestra in Italy for both opera and symphony ) were perfectly in line with this reading of the opera. Ranzani emphasizes the C flat and the D flat so that even the orchestra emanates a bleak color and atmosphere. Alberto Gazale was an excellent Rigoletto both dramatically and vocally and had a superb partner in Desirée Rancatore as Gilda; the opening night, (October 3rd), at the audience’s request, they had to encore the final scene of the second acts (“Sè, Vendetta, Tremenda, Vendetta”). It was harder to judge Gianluca Terranova who was called at the last moment to replace James Valenti as the Duke. He is a generous tenor, with an excellent acute and a strong volume, but uncertain phrasing — probably because he had to jump in the role without any rehearsal.
The following night Il Trovatore was played to a full house. On stage, there were no castles, no cloisters, no prisons, just a large early 20th century elegant living rooms with blue walls and a shocking red pyre (when required) or arches for the second act ‘s convent. However, the Count and Manrico (and their retinues) are in Medieval armour, whilst Eleonora, Azucena and the others in modern attire. The heightens the timeless reading of a plot where only Azucena is the character with psychological development. The others are stereotypes, almost a pretext for their arias, duets and concertatos. Some of the audience did not appreciated this interpretation of Il Trovatore, but at the end the applauses submerged the boos. Massimo Zanetti offered a carefully discreet conducting — in Il Trovatore the orchestra is mostly a support to the singers.Scene from Il Trovatore
Juan Jesùs Rodrìguez, Anna Smirnova and Stuart Neill are well known serious, experienced professionals. Stuart Neill gave a vibrant high C at the end of “Di Quella Pira” without attempting to sustain it too long. The real surprise was the young Arkansas soprano Kristin Lewis; a true soprano assoluto with a very large extension, a pure emission, an excellent coloratura and the skill to go up quite naturally to the highest tonalities and go down, equally naturally, to the lowest. She lives in Vienna and sings mostly in Europe. It is easy to foresee that she will go far.
La Traviata had a single set: a large Art Nouveau living room with camellia flowers on the wall paper as well as in many vases and pots. Lighting provides various shades of green and of white on the walls. An oversize sofa dominates Violetta’s apartment in the first and third act; furnished in turn of the century style. The dreamy atmosphere is already in the introduction when Violetta is on stage longing for a bourgeois family life. But she really lives a Baudelaire’s environment where we nearly smell opium.
Conductor Daniele Callegari slowed the tempos gently — the performance lasts slightly longer than three hours, with two intermissions — in order to gently heighten the dreamy atmosphere.
Andrea Rost proved that her vocal instrument is still perfect even though quite a few years have elapsed since the seasons when she was the major star of La Scala . Her singing was passionate; she did not circumvent any of the traditional virtuoso, added (over the centuries) to Verdi’s original writing such as the B flat at the end of “Sempre Libera”. Saimir Pirgu is young (28 years old), and athletic. His Libiamo requires acrobatic skills. He is good looking; and his voice has thickened in the last couple of years. He is now a perfect Alfredo, especially for his tender phrasing. He should resist the temptation to take on tenore spinto roles, but he would be probably excellent in many Massenet and Gounod parts. Luca Salsi is a good Giorgio Germont but maybe too young for the role. It is not clear whether Saimir Pirgu’s Germont senior is just an old-fashioned Provincial country gentlemen or a hypocrite. Nonetheless, on a Sunday matinee, the audience was enthusiastic, applauding during the performance.
Production Staff and Cast
Franco Ripa di Meana, director. Edoardo Sanchi, sets. Silvia Aymonino, costumes. Guido Levi, lighting. Orchestra e Chorus del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Piero Monti, chorus master.
Stefano Ranzani: conductor.
Gianluca Terranova:James Valenti; Shalva Mukeria: Il duca del Mantova; Alberto Gazale: Rigoletto; Désirée Rancatore: Gilda; Konstantin Gorny: Sparafucile; Chiara Fracasso: Maddalena; Giorgia Bertagni: Giovanna; Armando Caforio: Il Conte di Monterone; Roberto Accurso: Il Cavaliere Marullo; Luca Casalin: Matteo Borsa; Andrea Cortese: Il Conte di Ceprano; Miriam Artiaco: La Contessa di Ceprano; Vito Luciano Roberti: Usciere di corte; Elisa Luppi: Un paggio.
Massimo Zanetti: conductor.
Juan Jesús Rodríguez: Il Conte di Luna; Kristin Lewis: Leonora; Anna Smirnova: Azucena; Stuart Neill: Manrico; Rafal Siwek: Ferrando; Elena Borin: Ines; Cristiano Olivieri: Ruiz; Alessandro Luongo: Un vecchio zingaro; Fabio Bertella: Un messo.
Daniele Callegari: conductor.
Andrea Rost: Violetta Valéry; Milena Josipovic: Flora Bervoix; Sabrina Modena: Annina; Saimir Pirgu: Alfredo Germont; Luca Salsi: Giorgio Germont; Aldo Orsolini: Gastone; Francesco Verna: Il Barone Douphol; Gabriele Ribis: Il Marchese d’Obigny; Michele Bianchini: Il Dottor Grenvil; Leonardo Melani: Giuseppe; Salvatore Massei: Un domestico; Pietro Simone: Un commissionario.