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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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..
Gil Shohat, now 35 and Israeli’s top classical composer, was 15 when
in the ‘80s he saw Hanoch Levin’s The Child Dream on stage in his native Tel Aviv. Shohat, of course, knew Levin’s work well, for throughout early decades in the history of Israel he — its outstanding dramatist — had served somewhat as the conscience of a nation tormented defining itself within its pain-wrought beginnings.
Gil Shohat: The Child Dreams Libretto based on a play by Hanoch Levin
“I knew then that I would compose Dream, said Shohat in a post-performance interview in the Tel Aviv Opera House, where
the premiere of the opera had taken place on January 18. Shohat’s plans
were seconded by Israeli Opera general director Hanna Munitz, who had also
sensed the operatic potential of drama when she saw it on stage.
Touched by the deep despair of the story and the genuine poetry of the text,
Munitz commissioned Dream for her company. It is the first opera
composed on any Levin text. Point of departure for Levin was the 1977 film
Voyage of the Damned, the story of the St. Louis, the ship unable
to attain landing rights for its fleeing refugees during World War II. But
this, it must be stressed, is no more than raw material for what is now
True, the opera underscores the degree to which the Holocaust remains today
a defining experience for the Israeli consciousness, yet the local critic who
placed the new opera “among the most depressing and despair-radiating
operas of the repertoire” missed the point of the transformation of the
story through music achieved by Shohat and his director Omri Nizan. (Nizan, an
old hand at the Cameri Theater, helped Shohat with minor changes in the text
— nothing was added — and then served in the vastly more important
role as director of the production.)
For through music the child at the center of the drama becomes much more
than a single child and his story is far greater than the tale of one
individual example of injustice. The Child is now a young Everyman with hopes
for a better and more just world. That this world is closed to him — and
not just by the near-criminality of captain of the ship that might have brought
salvation — elevates Dream to the level of mythic
universality. The story is quickly told. The Mother hopes to escape with her
son on the ship. The Captain demands payment “in the flesh.” The
ship reaches a ghost-like island, but passengers are not allowed to disembark
by the despotic governor, the second evil figure in the story.
In one of the most moving moments in the score — 2 hours and 30
minutes with one intermission — a crippled child — mezzo Shira Raz
I’m a poet.
I write about you who come out of the fog
and return and disappear in it. I weep over your fate
and sketch it.
your faces approaching tell the tale of delusion;
but all human failure is stamped on the back of your
The Crippled Child speaks above and across the play for Levin himself who
sees little but frustration and failure in the attempted escape.
The final act — an apotheosis of sorts — breaks with the seeming
realism of the earlier three acts (and it was wise, therefore, to insert the
intermission at this point). Dozens of “dead” children suspended
above the stage whisper of their fate while the female nonet that opened the
opera sings again of their sorry situation.
There is a Straussian sadness about this conclusion; it its muted melancholy
it recalls the elder composer’s Metamorphosen, the
“mourning for Munich” that he wrote after the destruction of his
native city. It is deeply felt and moving music that might well become a
concert piece in its own right.
And as the many who visit the memorial to children victims of the Holocaust
in Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem experience not consolation but rather the hope
beyond hopelessness so essential in any confrontation with the vast inhumanity
of the 20th century, here too there is an elevation beyond meaningless
Child Dream is an ambitious work calling for a cast
of 20, all drawn from the roster of the resident company. Outstanding among
them were Larissa Tetuev as the Mother, a role she shared later with Ira
Bertman, Hila Baggio as the child and Noah Briger as the Captain.
In only his second season as IO music director, David Stern extracted
exemplary playing from the Rishon Le-Zion Orchestra, the company’s pit
band. Sets and costumes were effectively designed by Austrian-born Gottried
Helnwein. Lighting by Avi Yonah Bueno contributes to making this a colorful
show engaging to the eye.
Shohat has documented his superlative command of the composer’s craft
in an incredible long and diverse catalgue. In Dream, however, he
travels on no new turf, but concentrates rather on giving musical meaning to an
unusually demanding text.
Dream is written for reduced orchestra, and outstanding is the
manner in which Shohat has woven the piano into the ensemble to achieve unusual
effects. (The composer is a concretizing pianist as well.)
It is unavoidable that some find the opera with its focus on the death of
children depressing and even morbid. In so doing, they overlook the strong
element of empathy that Shohat’s music brings to Levin’s turgid
story. In the final analysis, Child Dream is an
affirmative work that deserves to be seen outside Israel.
The production celebrates the 35th anniversary of Israeli Opera; it further
marks the 10th anniversary of Hanoch Levin’s death and the centennial of
the founding of Tel Aviv.