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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..
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