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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.