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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..
11 Dec 2009
Emma Matthews in Monte Carlo
Emma Matthews is an English born soprano currently resident in Australia where she has sung with the state based opera companies as well as the national company Opera Australia where she is currently a soloist.
Matthews is mostly known for her already formidable coloratura technique. In her work with Opera Australia Matthews projects a big, secure voice in lyric and coloratura roles but also in less likely assignments including the title role in one Opera Australia’s finest achievements, Alban Berg’s Lulu, using that light, lyrical voice to revelatory effect.
This co-production between ABC Classics and Deutsche Grammophon will also be released internationally and coincides with Matthews launches her international career. The project is a luxurious one, instead of an Australian orchestra the Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo is employed and even a second singer (mezzo Catherine Carby) has been brought over to sing the ‘pertichio’ role in the Lucia di Lammermoor scene.
The disc opens with a restrained account of “Glitter and Be Gay” from Bernstein’s operetta-inspired Candide. Eschewing the histrionics that often negate the song’s effects Matthew’s equates the coloratura passages to the type of musical laughter familiar from Manon Lescauts’ laughing song in Auber’s opera or the best known example, Adele’s laughing song in Die Fledermaus. The result is immensely satisfying and encourages multiple hearings.
The folksy “Last Rose of Summer” from Flotow’s Martha reveals Matthews’s beautiful legato but the bulk of the disc is a 60 minute ‘potted’ history of the Bel Canto era before ending with a return to simple serenity. Instead of the celebrated mad-scene from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor comes the equally dramatic fountain scene is chosen which introduces Lucia (and subtly indicates her mental breakdown is already beginning). The featured mad scene is Ophelia’s scene and ballade from Thomas’s Hamlet. Given in full it the best demonstration of Matthews’s impressive technique as she incorporates the higher and more florid passages introduced by the singer Marie Carvalho and incorporated into the original vocal scores. Matthews then gives an even more elaborate account of the ‘Doll Song” from Les Contes d’Hoffmann and then just enough of an arrangement (the entire thing overstays its welcome even for coloratura fanciers) by Richard Bonynge of Proch’s Theme and Variations (presumably with his wife Joan Sutherland in mind) and which Matthews sings with the same power and agility as Sutherland.
The recital closes with two Australian compositions, and orchestration of a song by Calvin Bowman that has a folksy simplicity and even a beguiling Scotch rhythm in places. The Nightingale’s song from Richard Mill’s opera The Love of The Nightingale is sadly too brief an excerpt from an opera Matthews is so closely associated with. Sounding like a classical vocalise and orchestrated in a lush Ravel-ian manner it brings some beautiful playing from the orchestra. The conductor, Brad Cohen, has a personal interest in this 19th French operatic repertoire and the orchestra, as expected, are a world class band who respond to the familiar items, bringing some very Gallic and incisive playing to the scene from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The recording is demonstration class, Matthews’s voice given an immediate presence with the strings, in particular in the Bowman item, sounding luscious.
Leonard Bernstein: Candide — Glitter and Be Gay
Leo Delibes: Lakme — Ou va la jeune Indoue (Bell Song)
Friedrich von Flotow: Martha — The Last Rose of Summer
Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor — Ancor non giunse…Regnava nel silenzio…Quando rapito In estasi (with Catherine Carby mezzo-soprano)
Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi — Eccomi in lieta vesta…Oh! quante volte
Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette — Air de la coupe: Dieu quel frisson
Amour, ranime mon courage
Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet — A vos jeux, mes amis
Partagez-vous mes fleurs… (scène de la folie d’ Ophelie)
Jaques Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann — Les oiseaux dans la charmille
Heinrich Proch (arr. Richard Bonynge): Deh! Torna, mio bene, Theme and Variations
Calvin Bowman: Now Touch the Air Softly
Richard Mills: The Love of the Nightingale — The Nightingale’s Song