Recently in Performances
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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
10 May 2010
Heggie’s Moby-Dick a whale of an opera
It’s glorious and it’s gripping; it’s grand — and
it’s good! Indeed, Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick,
premiered by Dallas Opera in its handsome new Winspear Opera House on April 30,
is a work that restores meaning to basic vocabulary made banal by overuse
through the decades.
Heggie — assisted by his seasoned librettist Gene Scheer — has
achieved something with Moby Dick that American opera has
not experienced in a long time: they have created a work of quality that should
garner itself an immediate place in the repertory of opera houses around the
Announcement of the commission — Dallas Opera’s first for the
Wiinspear — raised eyebrows, for few could imagine a less operatic novel
than Hermann Melville’s 1851 detailed account of sailing and whaling.
Running 500 to 700 pages in standard editions, the book is often dark and
diffuse — everything that an opera cannot be, if it is to reach an
audience with its story. In a sense, of course, Melville made it easy for
Sheer, for the many exegesis on whaling were easily excised as the librettist
laid bare the soul of the novel in his focus on its characters.
As told in the opera Moby Dick is now a story that
explores the raw basic forces of life, underscoring the darkness that drives
men and sends them to perdition. The Great White Whale is only a means to that
end. Indeed, Sheer’s Ahab, the man who has lost a leg to the animal upon
whom he seeks revenge, is yet another Faust out to defy the
less-than-benevolent god embodied in the whale.
It is this confrontation with “the basics,” the unembellished
dark drives that send men on impossible adventures, that the audience feels
first-hand in this three-hour opera. “Feels,” one emphasizes, for
Heggie has written music — always accessible — that requires no
major act of mediation through performers. The score speaks always with telling
directness. There is never “time out” to be mere opera. It is
visceral music; now and then one puts up one’s hand in defense.
That’s why one is wrung out at the end of Moby Dick,
for one has been through it all with the many sailors on the Pequod. The opera
keeps attention riveted on the stage; the mind is not allowed to wander. Most
amazing aspect of the opera is that there is no feeling of condensation or that
anything has been left out. Heggie more than compensates in mesmerizing music
for the liberties taken with Melville’s text.
Heggie’s progress as a composer is documented throughout the score,
which is largely through-composed with arias and ensembles seamlessly woven
into it. The orchestral interludes are destined to take their place next to the
Sea Interludes from Benjamin’s Peter
Moby Dick is a Dallas co-commission with San Francisco,
San Diego and Calgary Operas and State Opera of South Australia, and one can
only hope that the other companies have the high-tech facilities that enabled
the Winspear to take full advantage of an awesome world of effects —
photos, projections and sets — that added so much to this initial
Director Leonard Foglia worked with the hand of a sorcerer to blend
projection designs by Elaine McCarthy into an overpowering and effective whole
with designs by Robert Brill and lighting by Donald Holder. Never did these
visual aspects threaten the primacy of Heggie’s score, in which there is
not one superfluous note.
Scheer achieved dramatic concentration by pairing Ahab — sung to
perfection by veteran Ben Heppner - with first mate Starbuck — stunningly
portrayed by Morgan Smith, a baritone at home in top German opera houses. They
interlock with a second pairing: native and noble Queequeg, engrossingly
portrayed by New Zealand Samoan Jonathan Lemalu, and Greenhorn, the young man
out — Parsifal-like — to learn fear — so touchingly sung by
young American tenor Stephen Costello.
Only in the final minutes of the work does Costello reveal that he is the
man called Ishmael who opens the novel. He is of special interest as the one
character who — in confronting fear — develops. The other three of
this basic quartet remain what they were when the curtain rose.
Sole female in the cast was Talise Trevigne, whose touching incarnation of
Cabin Boy Pip offered little hint of the successful Violetta, Lucia and Pamina
that have made her famous in Europe.
Moby Dick is rich in powerful choruses — the
major show-stoppers of the debut performance — admirable prepared by
Patrick Summers, Heggie perennial collaborator, evoked magnificent playing
from the Dallas Opera Orchestra in giving birth to what is obviously a modern
masterpiece of music theater.
(The opera will enlighten a young generation by revealing the source of the
name Starbuck — even if it fails to explain the coffee company’s
aversion to apostrophes.)