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Puccini Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera. What is Manon Lescaut really about? The Abbé Prévost's 1731 narrative was a moral discourse. Unlike many modern novels, it wasn't a potboiler but a philosphical tract in which the protagonists face moral dilemmas
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.
15 Nov 2009
Die Rheinnixen by New Sussex Opera
London has long been spoiled in the operatic rarity department, thanks to companies like Opera Rara, Chelsea Opera Group and University College Opera populating various areas of the Venn diagram that is obscure repertoire.
so, there remain gaps that even these pioneers fail to reach — at which
point, enter New Sussex Opera, in the first of what I hope will be a regular
series of visits to the capital.
It is not widely known that Offenbach ever ventured into German grand opera,
though a recording of Die Rheinnixen finally became available in 2005
thanks to the Orchestre de Montpelier (the disc was reviewed on this site).
Though Rhine Fairies are most familiar in operatic terms because of Wagner, an
audience at Offenbach’s opera would be forgiven for not realising there
was any common ground. Offenbach’s Rhine Fairies are a hybrid of a number
of different myths, from the Lorelei of popular legend to the jilted
maiden-spirits of Giselle.
The English rendition of the libretto has its clumsy moments, and although
some (such as switching between ‘thee’ and ‘you’ for
the sake of a rhyme) can be put down to the translator, tenor Neil Jenkins, the
majority of the unintentional humour is pretty inevitable. Cynics might say
that singing in a foreign language covers a multitude of sins — and this
is one of those operas where performance in translation serves to remove the
only layer of disguise from the sheer ludicrousness of the plot. We have an
amnesiac hero (thanks to a war-wound) who is shocked into recovering his senses
on the spot, long-lost family relationships being revealed at every turn, and
supernatural forces which overshadow the lives of the central characters. At
the centre of it all is a saintly heroine so fragile that singing too
strenuously almost kills her — an archetype which Offenbach took one step
further in Hoffmann (and another metaphor for the dangerous power of female
sexuality). That’s not the only thing which almost happens — a
devastating Wagnerian ending is narrowly averted when, as the principal
characters prepare to evade enemy capture by blowing up a strategically-placed
ammunition dump with themselves in it, the Rhine Fairies lure the baddies over
a precipice to their death and the goodies all breathe a sigh of relief and
live happily ever after. The opera predates Götterdämmerung by more than a
decade, but it’s difficult not to make the comparison.
A more than decent cast was assembled for the occasion: as the heroine,
Armgard, Kate Valentine struck the balance of youth and maturity with a capable
and sweet-edged lyric soprano and a firm and centred stage presence. As Franz,
David Curry, made an ardent lover, though was occasionally a little pallid and
strained in the top register, with a tendency to oversing. The more memorable
performances were in the older roles, with Anne-Marie Owens supplying a
dramatic centre in the pivotal role of Hedwig, Armgard’s mother whose
past youthful exploits with the now enemy, Conrad von Wenckheim, bring about
almost all of the plot’s developments. Quentin Hayes was a strong and
masculine Conrad, and Daniel Grice was sympathetic in the role of Gottfried
(here, in translation, Godfrey) — the true friend who never quite manages
to get the girl.
The chorus sang idiomatically, and the smaller roles were taken more than
ably by members of the amateur company. Conductor Nicholas Jenkins drew a clean
and poised performance from the orchestra, and the score has plenty to
recommend it. Offenbach inventively evokes a Germanic sound-world —
Franz’s ethereal entrance-aria almost seems to prefigure the way Mahler
used some of the Des Knaben Wunderhorn tunes in his early symphonies.
The imagination in the rest of the score should not be underestimated, and
would no doubt be easier to appreciate if Hoffmann had not remained so
firmly in the repertoire while Die Rheinnixen was as good as lost for
over a century. The composer reused so much of Rheinnixen in his later
work that listening to it can be quite disorientating. It takes an open mind to
think of the ‘Barcarolle’, and its introduction, were originally
intended to depict not the hypnotic stasis of Venetian canals but the waters of
a river which — thanks again to Wagner — most opera-lovers have
come to associate with primeval E flat chords. The Rhine-Fairies themselves
have the most obvious leitmotiv of the piece, a rising and falling
chromatic triplet figure, first introduced in Armgard’s Act 1 aria.
New Sussex Opera has expressed a hope that some of its future productions
— which, if an audience questionnaire included in the programme is
anything to go by, might include Wagner’s Die Feen,
Chabrier’s L’etoile and Gounod’s Mireille
— might bring the company back to London. On this evidence, let’s
Ruth Elleson © 2009