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Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
25 Jan 2010
Dido and Aeneas by Les Arts Florissants
We all wish Henry Purcell had written a few more operas like Dido and
Aeneas — simple to cast, simple to stage, offering endless
possibilities for either reserved or outrageous treatment, attractive to every
sort of audience.
Producers of opera certainly wish it, for they turn to
Dido all the time, in every sort of production and circumstance.
Dido, brief and elementary as it is, is a complete work, even
“grand” (as William Christie suggests in this DVD’s
supplemental film), in the range of emotions it takes us through, the
completeness of the story we are asked to feel, the “Shakespearean”
variation (as director Deborah Warner suggests in the same film) between heroic
tragedy and madcap humor. Dido repays every sort of effort, from
amateur to elitist.
Les Arts Florissants are more familiar from their grandiose productions of
such works as Lully’s Atys, Charpentier’s Medée,
Rameau’s Les Boréades and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di
Ulisse, but Dido might have almost been composed with their
gracious style in mind. Deborah Warner’s production plunks the characters
down in a girls’ school (the site of Purcell’s original
commission), and leaves the girls such duties as mimed history, shrieking
courtiers, masked demons and so on, which they acquit with brio. An inserted
prologue presents actress Fiona Shaw reciting (and enacting) Ted Hughes’s
version of “Echo and Narcissus” and some bits of Eliot and Yeats on
love affairs gone awry, just to put us in the mood for Arcady and broken hearts
in lieu of an overture. (Purcell’s, if it ever existed, is lost.)
What follows is always delicious to watch: muscular tumblers writhing
together while suspended from the ceiling represent a visible thunderstorm, the
sorceress demonstrates her evil by puffing a cig, while her goth attendants
snort cocaine in Madonna lingerie, the “spirit” they invoke gives
Aeneas’s valet a talking seizure, and Dido takes poison and goes blind,
reaching for Belinda’s hand, and fading away in her arms. The set is
classic, court and pool and glade, against a shimmering curtain of metallic
beads, filmed in Paris’s sumptuous — but not dauntingly enormous
Delicious too the performances: Malena Erdman’s delicate Dido, each
phrase sweet with ardor or drawn out in pain, bustling Judith van
Wanroij’s Belinda the motherly confidante, Christopher Maltman’s
robust (if sometimes wobbling) Aeneas, Hilary Summers’s louche and
envious Sorceress. The English diction of this international company is
exceptional: you won’t need titles, even for the choruses. An orchestra
of twenty ranges emotionally over the cues of Purcell’s music and
The supplementary film interviews Christie (in French) on the edition of
Purcell used and where and why enhanced or revised (it is unclear whether the
score as we have it is complete, or exactly when or why it was composed),
Warner (in English) on her inspiration from the girls’ school idea and
the body of “Arcadian” myth and poetry that Purcell’s
audience would have known, but requires a refresher for most modern viewers
— so that she and Christie and Fiona Shaw came up with the classically
referenced prologue and other references within the staging, to Dido’s
earlier widowhood, to Troy’s fate, to Rome’s destiny, and to Diana