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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..
10 Dec 2009
Der Rosenkavalier - Royal Opera House, London
In dark, damp December we need good cheer, and Der Rosenkavalier at the Royal Opera House, delivers colour and spectacle. in abundance. It's a revival of the John Schlesinger production from 1884, and somewhat antiquated, but that's no disadvantage, for the passage of time haunts Der Rosenkavalier.
The Marschallin knows she’ll never be young again, and accedes to a new generation with whom the future lies. She was herself once like Sophie, forced into marriage by social convention. Strauss depicts a Vienna that by 1911 was about to be swept away. Even Octavian and Sophie have long gone, like “Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr.” Obviously in this revival, the costumes (Maria Björnsen) are new-made, and the sets (William Dudley) have been refreshed, but the air of musty decay is deliberate, because it’s an essential part of the narrative. This gorgeously gilded world is built on false values. By supporting Sophie and Octavian, the Marschallin is placing her faith in love.
There are those who think operas should be museum pieces, preserved forever at the moment of birth. In real life, though, every revival is a new work because the people involved are coming new to it. Even if they’ve sung the roles many times before, the specific demands of performance create a new dynamic. Directing revivals isn’t easy, because everyone has to be inspired all over again.
Sophie Koch as Octavian
Soile Isokoski is one of the greatest Strauss singers of our times. Her experience, and reflective, emotional depth could have made this an exceptionally well-rounded Marschallin. Isokoski’s voice has a smoky, wistful timbre that captures the Marschallin’s true personality. For whatever reason, in this production, Isokoski’s subtle approach seemed sidelined. Because so much is going on in the second act, it’s easy to forget how the Marschallin permeates the opera even when she’s not present. She was kleine Resi, just as Sophie is now. What happens in Faninal’s mansion may well have happened in her father’s home. She may not appear again until the end, but it’s “her” story, reprised anew.
Peter Rose as Baron Ochs and Lucy Crowe as Sophie
the production is so high on visual values, the balance shifts to Octavian, who is, after all the Rosenkavalier, the personification of youth and the future. Sophie Koch is good, even her slight weaknesses play well into the character’s immaturity. More gusto in the “dialect” passages would have been welcome, connecting to the social satire in the plot. Who knows what Octavian might become when he grows older? Lucy Crowe’s Sophie is well acted, bringing out the spoilt brat aspects of the role. Octavian might have a hard time. Strauss had Pauline, so he knew very well that in real life marriages don’t follow the “rules” of society.
There’s a strong element of subversion in this opera, often overlooked in the frills and frou-frou. Strauss sends up the social order, parodying Viennese waltzes, depicting the baseness of aristocratic rule. Peter Rose’s Baron Ochs is suitably brutish. Even a nobleman as debased as he would have been marginally literate, but von Hoffmansthal points out his illiteracy clearly, so it can’t be missed. Strauss builds similar crudity into the music, which Rose might have made more grotesque, but it wouldn’t have worked against Kiril Petrenko’s civil and well behaved conducting. It was good, too, to hear two other Grandees of British opera, Thomas Allen and Graham Clark, as Faninal and Valzacchi.
Thomas Allen as Faninal, Lucy Crowe as Sophie and Sophie Koch as Octavian
This revival (directed by Andrew Sinclair) won’t go down as one of the great moments in performance history, because it lacks the fire and pain that lies in the score. Nonetheless, it’s still immeasurably better value than the usual level of “festive fare” on offer at this time of the year. Even if it’s muted, it’s still a decent artistic experience.