11 Nov 2009
The worlds of lieder and opera seem to share the same galaxy, while being countless light years apart.
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.’
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.
The worlds of lieder and opera seem to share the same galaxy, while being countless light years apart.
There is no greater name in lieder composition than that of Franz Schubert, and he desperately wanted to make a name for himself as a composer of opera as well. However, his operatic efforts met only with indifference or outright failure in his lifetime - as so much of his great body of work did. After his death, much of his chamber, symphonic, and lieder works achieved masterpiece status, whereas his theatrical works remain obscure.
In late 2005 the Zurich Opera House chose Claus Guth to stage Schubert’s setting of a libretto by Josef Kupelwieser, Fierrabras. Not only did Schubert never see this opera staged, but Richard Lawrence attests, in his abbreviated but informative booklet note, that the work remained unstaged until 1988. Lawrence attempts a brief synopsis of the plot, but neither the discs themselves nor the booklet have any kind of detailed synopsis, and truthfully, watching this very long opera, particularly in Guth’s abstract, uni-set staging, does little to communicate the narrative. Suffice it to say, we are in, as Lawrence writes, “a medieval never-never land,” and heroes suffer, their lovers suffer, the chorus suffers, until a joyful conclusion does what it can to erase the memory of all that suffering.
A libretto as hopeless as this gives a creative director a lot of room for innovative staging. Guth builds his production around a Schubert lookalike, both observing and sometimes interacting with the principals, with the drama played out in a parlor setting. Presumably that is Schubert’s piano for composition dangling from the ceiling. Dress is contemporaneous with Schubert’s era. Guth and set/costume designer Christian Schmidt manage to keep the stage picture varied and active, but in foregoing any sense of naturalistic action, the relationships and plot points get lost. The result is an elaborate concert presentation. At 171 minutes spread over two discs, it’s a long show, and some viewers may feel impatience with the static narrative and Guth’s stylization. The attenuated curtain calls suggest as much even for the live audience. As with his score to Alfonso und Estrella, Schubert’s melodic gift doesn’t reach the heights of his greatest pieces in Fierrabras, but the music is consistently appealing and often quite imaginative. Franz Welser-Möst emphasizes the drama of the score, perhaps trying to supply more excitement than the libretto manages to deliver. A little more variety of texture could be desired, but the Zurich Opera House forces play the score with expert authority.
Fans of rising tenor Jonas Kaufmann should not get too excited to see his name in the title role, as the character of Fierrabras disappears for much of the action, especially in the latter half of the opera. Nonetheless, his handsome presence and warm delivery give evidence of his appeal. Twyla Robinson and Juliane Banse both have to bewail their fates at extended length, with Robinson managing to do so with a more interesting voice of considerable size. Michael Volle as the Roland of legend and Christoph Strehl partner their ladies well. Lászlo Polgár strides the stage as the King, sometimes clambering onto an oversize chair as his throne. His voice provides sufficient regal command.
EMI Classics bare-bones packaging omits any track listing or information beyond the Lawrence essay and the usual “back cover” credits. Anyone who has gone begging for a DVD of Fierrabras, however, can’t be a chooser. This well-sung set, with take-it-or-leave-it direction, will have to do.