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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?
25 Mar 2010
Eva Marton in Puccini and Strauss
At one point in her career, Eva Marton appeared poised to be the true inheritor of Birgit Nilsson’s legacy roles: Wagner and Strauss’s most dramatic heroines, as well as key Italian roles (Puccini in particular).
Ultimately the Marton career — which continues to this day — will not rival that of Nilsson’s. The two DVDs reviewed here give evidence of the power that Marton possessed at her best and of the weakness that kept her from truly assuming the Nilsson legacy.
Recorded at the Vienna State Opera house in 1989, this staging of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra is one of the glories of live opera on film, deserving of eternal availability. The DVD picture has great clarity, despite the darkness of Hans Schavernoch’s set design. Other than the cliché of a huge statue head, toppled on its side, the set manages to be suitably representative of a decaying palace as well as an imposing, theatrical space, dominated by the mammoth body of the statue from which the head apparently dropped, draped with the ropes that seem to have enabled the decapitation. Sooner or later most of the characters cling to and twist around those ropes, an apt stage metaphor for the remorseless repercussions from the murder of Agammenon by his unfaithful wife Klytämnestra and her paramour, Aegisthus. Reinhard Heinrich’s costumes capture a distant era while sustaining a creepily modern look — part Goth, part homeless, part Spa-wear.
Director Harry Kupfer does brilliant work with the cast. Here Marton seems like a major stage performer. Her Elektra boils inside with hatred and disgust, but she can’t let it show. Marton’s impassive mask draws attention to the steely coldness of her eyes. When she recognizes her brother, Orestes, and knows that her wish will soon be fulfilled, she won’t allow herself conventional jubilation. Instead, she sinks back upon her brother and lets the fire die out of her eyes. Her dance of mortal joy at the end finds her wrapping herself in those ropes trailing from her father’s statue — she lived and died for him; there is no escape. Those who know Marton from her later years will be astounded by the firmness of her delivery — never wobbly, never shrieky. If we evaluate a performer by his or her best, Marton proves herself a great singer here.
Cheryl Studer finds a fire, too, in her Chrysothemis. Neither Kupfer or Brigitte Fassbaender will go for any ghoulish caricature for Klytämnestra, which makes her scarier. James King brings more of his heroic tone that one might expect at this stage of his career to the weaselly Aegisthus. Franz Grundheber is in fine form as Orestes, and Kupfer’s inclusion of Orestes at the end, covered in blood and both triumphant and aghast, ensures a shattering conclusion. Claudio Abbado gets a paradoxical performance out of the Vienna State Opera forces — both brutal and refined.
Five years later in San Francisco, Marton is just not the same singer as Turandot. She relies on conventional soprano diva mannerisms, but more damagingly, the voice has deteriorated. High sections are half-hooted, half-screamed, and extended notes flutter from semi-tone to semi-tone. Truthfully, a lot of Turandots sound like this, and many sound worse. Marton herself had established the measure of her abilities with the earlier Elektra; this is simply at a lower level.
The chief attraction here is as a recorded testament to the beauty and ingenuity of David Hockney’s sets. This classic production still gets trotted out (I saw it in San Francisco and San Diego in the early 2000s). However, film doesn’t capture its beauty and charm well. The stage picture is too dark, and frequent close-ups dim the theatrical effect.
Michael Sylvester seemed poised for a notable career at this point, and his Calaf has force as necessary and yet some sweetness of tone. Ian Falconer’s costume doesn’t flatter the tenor, who has a barrel chest and spindly legs. My sister and I had a debate as to whether Mr. Sylvester’s eyes cross at the high note of “Nessun dorma,” but only the wickedly curious will want to get this set to make their own judgment on that. The rest of the cast tends to the pedestrian — Lucia Mazzaria a forgettable Liu, Kevin Langan a prosaic Timur, and the singers of Ping, Pang, and Pong making their scene feel dreadfully long. Donald Runnicles seems to want the evening over fast, with many tempos just a bit too fast.
It is the classic Elektra for which Eva Marton should be remembered.