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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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?
03 Nov 2009
Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes — Baroque Hyperbole
Thomas Arne's masterpiece, Artaxerxes, was a huge hit after its 1762 debut. Yet the work is now a rarity. This spectacular performance at the Linbury Studio Theatre, will certainly raise its public profile.
Baroque is hyperbole, celebrating exuberance. Artaxerxes, set in ancient Persia, gave Arne an opportunity to create an “oriental” fantasy that would shock and awe. This production, by the Royal Opera House at the Linbury Studio Theatre certainly was spectacular in the true, over-the-top baroque manner, enhanced by modern technology.
Artaxerxes starts in silence. The Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company sits on stage in a brightly lit white pit. They’re wearing white too, which dazzles in the darkly shrouded stage. Gradually from the shadows emerges a truly magnificent golden throne, not like any story-book European king’s throne but an intricate golden web, 5 meters high. It references the Pharaohs —Tutankhamen meets the Peacock Throne of Persia..
The costumes (by Johan Engels) are amazing. They look vaguely 18th century yet are made of Japanese brocade and silk, lime green, neon pink, electric blue, colours that rarely exist in nature, with samurai-like shoulderpads and helmets. European, but with a distinctly alien flamboyance. This is the true magpie spirit of the baroque, an age when Europe discovered that worlds existed beyond anything they’d imagined. It didn’t matter if the influences were Japan or Persia, as long as they were exotic.
The servants who also act as guards, are mysterious, some wearing samurai helmets, but often simply swathed in black, like ninjas. This could be a reference to bunraku, the Japanese theatre tradition where puppets “act”, manipulated by black-clad puppeteers, meant to be semi-invisible. It could be a comment on how formal and stylized life in Court circles might have been. When the singers collapse emotionally, they fall down, held up by the “ninjas” who then become symbols of dark, inexpressible feelings.
The costumes may be hyper-real and the set minimalist, but that reflects the plot. It’s so convoluted it’s not easy to follow even if you’ve read up on it. Artaxerxes’s father Xerxes is assassinated by Artabanes, father of Arbaces, Artaxerxes’s best friend. Both young men are in love with each others sisters. Father frames son for the murder and condemns him to death. But the son is so loyal to the new king, that he kills the rebel General. In remorse, Artabanes confesses and Artaxerxes exiles his regicide future farher in law, restoring the son to honour and marrying the daughter.
Musically, Artaxerxes is surprisingly simple, with a small chamber orchestra, instruments doubled for volume. The continuos are harpsichord and cello. Some of the arias are familiar even though the opera itself is rarely heard. There are good moments for vocal pyrotechnics. Words are held for 10 or 12 measures amply decorated. Nonetheless, it’s not specially inventive as music.Artaxerxes will be much better known thanks to this production, but might not have quite the same effect in concert performance.
Very good singing all round. Christopher Ainslie’s Artaxerxes wasn’t so extreme as some countertenors can be, so he didn’t shake the balance of the ensemble but convinced as an intuitive young man who doesn’t do ruthless. Caitlin Hulcup’s Arbaces was so convincing that you had to remind yourself she was a mezzo. Elizabeth Watts’s Mandane, and Andrew Staples’s Artabanes were solid. Steven Ebel’s Rimenes was striking, his stage presence mature beyond his actual age.
Rebecca Bottone’s Semira was outstanding. Tiny as she is, she sings and acts with such intensity that it seems to shake her frame. It’s Semira who challenges everyone, and it is she who doesn’t accept that Arbaces is a killer. Left to his own devices the poor fellow is a bit of a wimp, despite being sweet. Bottone’s passionate portrayal was so strong that she was worth watching even when she wasn’t singing.
This was a new performing edition by Ian Page, who conducted and wrote additional music for the recitatives. Duncan Druce write the delightful finale, where all the cast sing before the golden throne. The original recitatives and finale were lost in a fire that burned down a theatre not far from Covent Garden in 1808, so it’s good that it should be restored and heard again at the Royal Opera House, not far from where Arne lived 250 years ago.