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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.’
05 Mar 2010
Ariadne auf Naxos, New York
As the first familiar themes of Ariadne came from the pit, I felt
myself sinking — sinking from a tense, dreary, daily world into a sort of
ecstatic fantasy — a place where all was happy, funny, romantic, inane,
fateful and surprising all at once — Sarah Connolly superb, Kathleen Kim
charming, Nina Stemme full-throated,
Kyrill Petrenko bringing out all the
elegant, edgy Schwarmerei of a score that is supremely sophisticated
without being too sophisticated to believe in fanciful dreams, and the
production, for once in a long while, was a production of the opera being
performed, so that all the parts fit together instead of sticking out like
bleeding, inefficiently amputated limbs. All was bliss. I can’t remember
the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed being at the Met.
You remember the colorful Elijah Moshinsky production, with its vertiginous
three-story farthingales on the earth spirits, its rather overdone acrobatics,
its sky map giving way to shipscape giving way to setting (or is it rising?)
sun? Well it’s as charming as ever. Laurie Feldman’s redirection
has no doubt been hampered by having a cast of comparatively slim singers for
once — her Brighella, has to wear a false tummy to live up to
commedia expectations — but all were game, and the clowns tossed
Zerbinetta about in the air in mid-roulade without hampering her breath
control. (Diana Damrau, over in La Fille du Régiment, take notice.)
Kathleen Kim as Zerbinetta and Sarah Connolly as the Composer
Sarah Connolly, who sang the Composer radiantly, is not a pretty woman, and
she makes her looks work for her in her frequent assumption of trouser roles
(Giulio Cesare, Romeo, Ariodante). As a lover, she is sometimes less than
convincing, but she was irresistibly right this time for the adolescent,
idealistic musician, Strauss’s tribute to his beloved Mozart:
clumsy-charming and visibly a-quiver when a seated Zerbinetta casually leaned
on his knee. Connolly sang the little air to Cupid and the fervent hymn to
Music (the two gods, one might say, who preside over this opera) with a fervent
delight that reminded more than one listener of Troyanos and was certainly the
most enthralling account of the part to be heard at the Met since her day.
Lance Ryan as Bacchus
I think I’ve never heard a bad Zerbinetta — they’re either
good or terrific in my experience, which goes back to Reri Grist — and
Kathleen Kim (if not quite Swenson or Dessay) was on the terrific end of the
spectrum. She is one of the tiny Zerbinettas (a group including Grist
and Dessay), and she makes use of her size and agility to boss big
folks to great comic effect. Her bewitchment of the hapless Composer is quite
believable. In the early scenes her trills were on the colorless side, but all
was in place by the time her “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” began. In
that bravura number, where the cascades of ornament can often lack color, she
made the notes identifiable notes and brought down the house.
Nina Stemme is too rare a visitor on these shores, as the great dramatic
German roles are currently in disfavor here or tend to be performed by
second-rate Americans. She sang Ariadne with torrents of earth-deep sound in
colors of cognac and sherry, rising to superb heights, rich with frustrated
— and then idealized — emotion. She is also as slim as any lover of
the opera could desire, and plays a glamorous send-up of a diva.
The trio of “earth-spirits” were charming — and in the
higher reaches of the house, I’m told, blended with unusual delicacy.
Though all very decent, the men were not quite so fine as the women in the
cast. This is not a tragedy in Strauss, who would have done without male voices
entirely if he’d been permitted to do so. Lance Ryan sang the high-lying
role of Bacchus without a squall or a crack, in itself an achievement, but with
a dryish color that did not always give pleasure. Jochen Schmeckenbecher sang
an admirable Music-Master, and the comedians were ably handled by Markus Werba
as Harlekin — one has heard more sensuous serenades — Mark
Schowalter, Joshua Bloom and Sean Panikkar. In this staging, Scaramuccio and
Truffaldino have very little to do and no distinction, but Panikkar gave
Brighella a distinctive sound and antics.
Michael Devlin — surely not the man I heard sing Ptolemy to
Sills’s Cleopatra forty years ago! And the Count to Te Kanawa’s
Countess thirty years ago! But yes, it was he — performed the speaking
role of the Major-Domo with archducal hauteur, a man so snooty he regards
singing in an opera as beneath his dignity.
Kyrill Petrenko demonstrated clarity and genuine feeling for Strauss’s
mingling of delirious motifs, and produced not just a musical fabric but a
philosophic statement. The singers all found him easy to work with — they
went about their comical antics without appearing to pay him any attention, but
they were always together and he was always having fun. So were we.