11 Nov 2009
The worlds of lieder and opera seem to share the same galaxy, while being countless light years apart.
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
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.