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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.’
17 Mar 2010
The Saint of Bleecker Street, Marseilles
It takes some courage these days for an opera company to program a Gian Carlo Menotti opera. Nonetheless last month the Opéra de Marseille defied current sensibilities to give us a new production of The Saint of Bleecker Street.
In his prize winning account of music in the twentieth century The Rest is Noise New Yorker magazine critic Alex Ross accords Menotti two mentions — 1) a composer invited into Jacqueline Kennedy’s newly art responsive White House, and 2) an openly gay composer. There is no reference to Menotti’s art perhaps because musically it was a dead end street, and because Menotti’s melodrama, like the broad, latter day melodramma of Italian verismo had soon morphed first into cinematic realism and then disappeared into populist television.
Ironically Menotti did leave a significant artistic legacy. He founded the Festivals of Two Worlds first in Spoleto (1958) and then in Charlotte (1977), stalwart bastions of everything that is progressive in opera and music — a contradiction left unaddressed by Alex Ross.
The Saint of Bleecker Street premiered in 1953, rife with the baggage of the post WWII era. This was when operatic art was expected to abandon its high perches and descend onto Main Street and long runs in Broadway theaters. The Saint of Bleecker Street endured 72 performances. Its has had sporadic revivals in the U.S., notably a 1978 televised version from New York City Opera with Catherine Malfitano (once a Marseilles Butterfly) and a 2007 revival at Central City Opera directed by Mme. Malfitano.
Immigrant life in New York, the quintessential melting pot of the early and mid-century America, is the background for Menotti’s tale of alienation, a subject deeply explored in the ’50’s by artists like Edward Hopper and George Tooker. In fact Tooker’s iconic painting of alienation The Subway (1950) was the basis of the design of the original Broadway production. But Menotti complicated his take on the alienation of Italian immigrants by slathering on a lurid, melodramatic overlay of questionable religious fervor.
If nothing more Menotti’s Broadway success spawned a true masterpiece, Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story that had its premiere in 1956, just three years later. It is a work so similar in subject that its provenance from Menotti’s little opera is blatantly obvious. But where Bernstein incorporated and expanded the musical discoveries of the twentieth century in his score Menotti kept his tonalities banale and his structures derivative of traditional sources.
The Marseilles Saint of Bleecker Street production was in the hands of British director Stephen Metcalf and British designer Jamie Vartan (neither boast American credits) who placed all the action in a courtyard between two nineteenth century oddly un-New York tenement facades. This confined space supported the scene changes uncomfortably, cramping Menotti’s facile music into a dramatic focus it could not support. Missing was the punctuation of Broadway’s quick-change theatricality, changes that in fact Menotti cleverly incorporated into his descriptive music — à la Puccini.
The Broadway style thrives on razzle-dazzle, and messieurs Menotti and Metcalf obliged with a couple of good, lively scenes — the murder of Assunta and the assumption of the Bleecker Street saint Annina — but the overall scenic rhythm was in fits and starts that missed a Broadway crescendo.
Somehow the underlying theme of incest was always gnawing, perhaps this was subtle direction by Mr. Metcalf or more likely it is latent Menotti, an active participant in the sexually giddy circles of New York’s artistic crème de la crème of that era. This thread carried a potential wallop that never materialized, impossible obviously for Main Street art of the 1950’s but not for the jaded sensibilities of this new century — a missed opportunity for a new production of this potentially shabby little shocker.
There was not an American in the cast, unusual for almost any opera production in the south of France these days. Though she gave a fine, detailed performance French soprano Karen Vourc’h did not capture a saintly rapture, or the crazed rapture of a consenting sexual victim. She was a too plain, too real Annina. Hungarian tenor Attila B. Kiss used a Broadway style voice to expound the trails of the lover Michele when a more beautiful voice could have added dimension to this role. His too careful enunciation of the American underscored the homelessness of this Marseilles production.
Armenian mezzo soprano Juliette Galstian was a good Assunta, capturing a convincing, grandly temperamental jealousy as Michele’s jilted girl friend. But her character was betrayed by the too stylish lines of her costume, in fact the period haute couture look of all womens’ costumes in this production was more important than the character they clothed (a typical complaint to the hereabouts ubiquitous costume design of Katia Duflot).
Russian bass Dmitry Ulyanov was a fish-out-of-water as the priest Don Marco, simply to young and too green to inhabit the soutane of the spiritual and temporal shepherd of Menotti’s needy Italian immigrants. The myriad of supporting roles were however well cast and uniformly effective.
British conductor Jonathan Webb played the Menotti score for all it was worth. The Friday (02/19/10) evening audience indicated by its warm but limited enthusiasm that it had not been duped into believing it had had a significant opera experience.