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?
12 May 2010
La traviata in May, Royal Opera House, London
Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata is so beautiful that it can be watched repeatedly, yet still yield pleasure. But appearances, however splendid, aren’t quite enough to make a completely satisfying evening.
For a great many in the audience at the Royal Opera House on this occasion, it probably didn’t matter. Opera going is a great experience and La traviata is great theatre. I’ve never seen so many cameras popping, or people texting on their mobiles, even during the performance. Routine applause, for the sake of applause, deserved or not, inhibiting the flow of the drama. Opera has always been a social experience. Now it’s audience participation.
On the other hand, this performance was less than gripping musically. Since 1994, some of the greatest singers of our time have graced this production. Last year’s revival, with Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, was magnificent. Courageous as they are, this year’s cast, with some exceptions, cannot help but seem eclipsed in comparison.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont
Perhaps it was first night syndrome that the First Act didn’t quite ignite — even the “champagne corks” didn’t pop as brightly as they might. The Royal Opera House chorus, usually one of the best in the business, sounded curiously unfestive, though later they redeemed themselves in the tightly executed scene at the gambling party at Flora’s House. Brisk, well-paced interplay between singers and dancers. The gypsies and matadors embody the life-force that’s ebbing away from Violetta. The shadows of the Carnival that loom over her deathbed are a poignant reminder of what might have been.
The Royal Opera House Orchestra is very good too, so Yves Abel was able to get strong playing. Indeed, some individual soloists were so good that they drew attention away from the singing. Abel seems to have a feel for the flow in longer instrumental passages, so it will be interesting to hear him conduct La traviata again in July.
Ermonela Jaho covered as Violetta for Anna Netrebko in 2008. She’s charming, but Violetta is a strong, complex role. She’s the kind of woman who can drive men to fight duels, yet has the nobility of character to impress Germont. Jabo sings pleasantly, and looks good, but needs greater depth.
Dimitri Hvorostovsky’s Germont has vocal authority, honed through experience in the role. Yet, when he sings “Pura siccome un angelo”, his timbre softens and glows. In “Di Provenza il mar”, Hvorostovsky captures the lilting melody so cannily that he creates the impression of a distant, happier world far removed from Parisian artifice. .Hvorostovsky fills the role, not just the costume. His Germont is a fully realized personality, more interesting, perhaps, than his son. Hvorostovsky’s “Dove’e’ mio figlio?” makes the confrontation feel intensely profound, his voice colouring expressively.
Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo Germont and Ermonela Jaho as Violetta Valéry
Alfredo is a big part for a singer still under 30, so if Saimir Pingu impresses with youthful freshness, that’s no demerit. He has a future ahead of him. Robert Lloyd, as Dr Grenvil, has an illustrious past, but remains in excellent form at 70. Subsidiary roles were well cast, many of whom will also appear in the July series, with Angela Gheorghiu, James Valenti and Zeljko Lucic as principals.