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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?
07 Feb 2010
Donizetti revealed: Lucia di Lammermoor, ENO, London
Donizetti’s original concept of Lucia di Lammermoor is revealed in its true glory in this ground breaking production by the English National Opera, first heard in 2008. The opera is loved in its familiar form, but the new critical edition reveals the depth of Donizetti’s musical creation.
Donizetti’s music is so lyrical that we could be lulled, but he understood the true horrific nature of the narrative. In his time, the glass harmonica was believed by some to induce insanity. In theory, it’s surreal drone would have added an extra frisson of danger to early performances, enhancing the dramatic impact. Restoring the glass harmonica makes good dramatic as well as musical sense, even though the full impact may be lost on modern audiences used to horror movies and the ondes martenot. This ENO production, directed by David Alden, and designed by Charles Edwards, significantly places a luminous green object left stage, glowing menacingly. It represents the glass harmonica, played in the pit by Alexander Marguerre, one of the few glass harmonica specialists in the world. It reaffirms the importance of the musical character in this opera.
Two centuries of flamboyant performance practice have shaped our assumptions, but the evidence is that Donizetti’s approach was more restrained. There’s plenty of drama inherent in Lucia’s personality, so this production shifts the balance back to the inherent drama in Donizetti’s music. Anna Christy’s high soprano isn’t as magnificent as, say, Maria Callas, but it fits well with the cleaner bel canto aesthetic. Christy also evokes the fragility so fundamental to Lucia’s personality. Her timbre is clean and pure, almost shrill at times, but that’s psychologically astute. When Lucia finally breaks down in wild frenzy, it’s all the more disturbing.
Barry Banks (Edgardo)
This Lucia’s still in the nursery, playing with dolls, wearing a dress that shows her ankles. When Enrico (Brian Mulligan) fondles her legs, it shocking. But then selling his sister into marriage is shocking too. Nonetheless, Enrico recoils in horror at what he’s done and regresses, playing with a toy cart. Mulligan’s baritone is surprisingly delicate, so even if his physique isn’t child-like, he conveys the idea that Enrico — just like Lucia — doesn’t want to grow up and face the struggles that adulthood brings..
Donizetti Italianizes Sir Walter Scott’s fantasy of Scottish myth. Because the setting is ambiguous, this set design (by Charles Edwards) plays an important role in commenting on and expanding the themes implicit in the drama. What we need to know is that once powerful , families have been destroyed. In hues of grey, green and white, we see the faded glory of a marble mansion falling into ruin, paint peeling, windows boarded. Lammermoor is on the brink of collapse. Lucia is being traded off so the family can survive. Enrico’s not a craven brute, but a victim of overwhelming circumstances.
Anna Christy (Lucia) and Company
The mad scene takes place in an alcove above the main stage, complete with curtained backdrop. The marriage chamber becomes a stage where the ritual of marriage is acted out. This is Lucia’s “sacrifice” on the altar of social pressure. Even though Arturo is kind, losing her virginity is an act of violence, to which Lucia responds with extreme force.
Lucia is clearly unstable long before the wedding. She sees the ghost of a dead maiden, and falls suddenly in love when Edgardo kills a wild animal at her feet. Blood, love and death inextricably linked. Even in Donizetti’s time, some would have intuited the connection, but the Victorian costumes (Brigitte Reiffenstuel) in this production allude to images of rigid respectability. Beneath the buttoned up bombazine, sexual repression corrodes, just like the rusting windows in the Ashton mansion. Obviously, Lucia wants to die because she’s let Edgardo down by signing the marriage contract. But she’s also choosing death to avoid losing her innocence.
Edgardo (Barry Banks) is just as weighed down by family tradition as Enrico is, but he’s already lost everything but his father’s tomb. Here he’s dressed in a kilt, the last remaining wild Highlander in a new world of Victorian propriety. Walter Scott’s novels about a lost past appealed to the Romantic imagination because they offered an alternative to convention, in an era before there was a vocabulary for psychological concepts. Perhaps that’s why Alden has Edgardo killing himself with a gun instead of a sword. Edgardo, a throwback to a wild Highland past, can’t buck “modern” society.
Anna Christy (Lucia) and Brian Mulligan (Enrico)
With Lucia, Edgardo and Enrico destroyed, the future, as such, rests with figures like Raimondo Bidebent (what a name!). Clive Bayley’s portrayal is sympathetic — no Calvinist hellfire and brimstone here. Even when he attacks Normanno (Philip Daggett), he’s not specially vindictive. But he doesn’t understand the passion that drove Lucia and Edgardo. Something’s been lost in this new world of genteel reticence.. This superb production of Lucia di Lammerrmoor does justice to the drama and to the depth of Donizetti’s music, revealed in this lucid new edition.