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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
A Composer Grows before his Work — The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall
Many congratulations and thanks are in order to the Collegiate Chorale for
bringing Ricky Ian Gordon’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath to New York audiences this week.
However, while the evening at Carnegie Hall was more
theatrically compelling than most semi-staged performances, the compromise of
shortening the three-act opera into two acts of music-theatre with a crossover
cast seemed better intended than it was actually effective. Firstly, by
replacing the connective recitative with narration from novel (read by Jane
Fonda), Gordon’s musical diction was made less effective and, moreover,
Michael Korie’s rhyming libretto suffered in comparison to John
Steinbeck’s original prose. Secondly, changing the theatrical structure
of the evening necessarily altered the musical architecture. Reoccurring
motives effectively became musical theatre reprisals rather than the thematic
development post-Wagnerian opera audiences expect. At its best,
Gordon’s score evoked Ragtime more than Porgy and Bess.
The crossover casting, made possible by across the board sound enhancement,
was inspired in some instances but minimized the vocal demands on the singers
and did little to establish The Grapes of Wrath as an equivalent to the great
American novel. Christine Ebersole was in character from the moment she stepped
onto the stage, much more so than most of her counterparts from the world of
opera and concert repertoire. That said, while her brief appearance as the
waitress Mae should be lauded for the character arc created in a single scene,
Ebersole’s vocalism on Monday evening would be considered lacking on
either the Broadway or the operatic stage. Victoria Clark and Steven Pasquale,
both from the original cast of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza,
fared better. As Ma Joad, it was Clark, rather than headliner Nathan Gunn, who
proved to be the both the musical and dramatic lynchpin of the evening.
Pasquale used Al Joad’s short second act aria “Hooverville”
as an opportunity for cynical showboating à la Gershwin’s Sportin’
Among the opera singers in the cast, Gunn had the easiest singing and, not
coincidentally, the most fun with his musical material. His duet with Sean
Panikkar (stepping in for Anthony Dean Griffey as the preacher Jim Casy)
featured the evening’s most exciting vocalism. Moreover, Panikkar dealt
with the Jiminy Cricket text of his aria “Things Turn Around” with
considerable style and dignity. It was unfortunate to hear such a fine
singer’s phrasing and coloring flattened by the so-called acoustic
In order to elide three acts into two, Gordon and Korie had to cut much of
the musical and dramatic exposition and development. Therefore, the aria
establishing Jim Casy’s character was actually his swan song. This was
also the case with Andrew Wilkowske in the role of Noah. Perfectly cast,
Wilkowske carried off the evening’s most challenging scene with sweet
singing, sensitive acting, and overall aplomb. As Uncle John, Stephen
Powell’s performance was fully realized both dramatically and vocally.
Within the ensemble cast, Matthew Worth played three parts, but should be
especially commended for his turn as the Ragged Man.
Nathan Gunn and Victoria Clark
Costuming by Jacob Climer and projections by Wendall K. Harrington helped to
actualize the opera’s considerable theatrical potential. Inexplicably,
though, Elizabeth Futral showed no visible signs of pregnancy as Rosasharn.
Some of the projections, a mix of black-and-white period footage and color
representations of Dust Bowl meteorological phenomena, were more literal than
evocative (as in the case of the burning crops during the riot at Hooper
Ranch). The evening’s rather abrupt ending, in particular, could have
been made more poignant with different projections and lighting. Perhaps this
was due to the limitations of the concert stage – a full orchestra of
music stand lights took away from the poetry of Rosasharn’s “one
star” in the night sky as a beacon of American hope – or, more
likely, the rushed feeling of condensing a five hours of original music into
In either case, as an evening of music-theatre Gordon’s The Grapes of
Wrath shows promise. Since its original production at the Minnesota Opera in
2007, members of the original team, including director Eric Simonson, have
overseen the subsequent productions at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera as well
as this week’s performance at Carnegie Hall. If new creative teams can
work with the material as effectively as singers like Andrew Wilkowske, Sean
Panikkar, and Stephen Powell have assimilated their roles, then audiences have
something to look forward to.
Clearly, Gordon and Korie are open to the idea of re-tooling their opera in
order to make it more viable for today’s opera houses and audiences. It
would be interesting to see if, rather than featuring a large orchestra and
expanding the use of the chorus, the opera could be centered around a core
ensemble cast à la John Corigliano’s recent reconfiguration of The Ghosts
of Versailles. After all, the difference between a novel and a musical score as
a source document is that as a book stands the test of time it eventually
becomes a definitive example of something specific within its literary canon.
In order for an opera to become part of the standard repertoire, the score and
libretto need to inspire many different interpretations so that multiple
successful productions may be mounted. The Collegiate Chorale’s concert
version of The Grapes of Wrath should definitely be considered a success and a
step towards establishing both the composer and the work within the American