Recently in Reviews
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?
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