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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..
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