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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?
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