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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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
28 Mar 2010
Angels in America, Eötvös at the Barbican for the BBC
Angels in America, Peter Eötvös’s opera based on the Tony Kushner plays, received its London premiere. This was very high profile. David Robertson conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance that will be broadcast internationally, online on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
Angels in America depicts the first phase of the AIDS pandemic, in the very early 1980’s. Back then, the disease wasn’t even identified. Healthy young men were dying gruesome deaths from “Karposi’s sarcoma”, a cancer of the very old. Then apparently straight people succumbed, even bullying homophobes. It’s hard to appreciate how bad those times were, if you didn’t live through them. Yet AIDS was a turning point in society, because it exposed hypocrisy and prejudice.
Thirty years on, much has changed. In the west, people don’t die of AIDS as long as they can afford healthcare and medication. Now it’s entrenched in the Third World, particularly in Africa. We cannot be complacent.
Eötvös compresses Kushner’s seven hour saga into 2 1/2 hours.In the first part, vignettes of people experiencing death in their own way. Prior Walter (David Adam Moore) is a gay man dumped by his frightened lover. (Scott Scully). Roy Cohn (Kelly Anderson), the bully who thinks he can’t be touched, and Joe Pitt (Omar Ebrahim), the hapless married Mormon, who has to face the contradiction in his life. This concentrates dramatic focus on human relationships, and is very moving. Kushner doubled the parts, so the drama could extend beyond the immediate victims making it relevant for all society.
All roles, except the main protagonist Prior Walter, are doubled in the opera, too, Anderson and Ebrahim sing Ghosts of Plagues past, but Brian Asawa stands out. He sings no major role but a variety of subsidiaries, yet brings such assertiveness to them that they register well. His bright countertenor, these days mellowing lower in the range, extends Kushner’s ambiguity into the music.
Julia Migenes was impressive, too, as Harper Pitt, (male name, female role), Joe’s drug-ravaged wife who intuits his true nature and makes him confront his identity. She’s also Ethel Rosenberg, Roy’s nemesis and Angel Antartica. These are pivotal roles, which Migenes carries off with conviction. Janice Hall is less well served by the opera, her roles bordering on shallow stereotype.
Eötvös’s music illustrates the text nicely. Marimbas and electronics to create weird, surreal sounds, percussion to mark tension, lovely cello and violin melodies to enhance moments of individual reverie. As an extension of the play, the music is usefully mood-enhancing, so in that sense it works. He works following the text as it unfolds, which perhaps accounts for the episodic, reactive nature of the music. This works well in the first part, where the opera is spurred on by the dramatic momentum of Kushner’s vision.
In the second part, Kushner’s venturing into much more abstract territory, depicting Heaven and life after death. In the opera, the narrative isn’t coherent. Life (and the afterlife) isn’t necessarily coherent, so in a sense this unintelligibility is valid. But because music is abstract, this would have been an opportunity for Eötvös to write something distinctive. Opera is much more than film music. It’s more than illustrating text. It can reinforce the narrative with another dimension of original commentary, for opera is as much a composer’s response to a play than just the play itself.
I enjoyed this concert staging (directed by David Gately) because it showed how the simple resources of a concert staging can have a huge impact, done as thoughtfully as this. The lighting effects were superb, evoking huge vistas in the imagination. I “saw” the stars in the heavens and the lights of a night time city.
Ultimately, Angels in America works on stage because the subject is so powerful. It packs such an emotional punch that it would be hard not to be moved by the human drama in the first part. A lot of choices had to be made when Eötvös and his librettist reduced Kushner’s seven hour saga. That’s all the more reason why decisions had to be taken for maximum dramatic and musical effect. As an opera, Angels in America might have served the subject better had it been less dependent on replicating the play, and taken a more original vision.