Recently in Performances
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
06 Jun 2010
Bostridge and Pappano at Wigmore Hall
Bringing their recent recording of Schubert’s late songs to the concert stage, Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano swept through a sequence which ranged from bitter-sweet regret to angry self-reproach, from hesitant hope to turbulent despair, in this the second of two performances at the Wigmore Hall.
Serious, earnest, meticulous, intense
such qualities we have come to expect of any Bostridge performance. Some may find his cool, even severe, stage presence and arch gestures, occasionally distracting or overly mannered; but there is no doubting his commitment to the music and, equally, to the emotional drama of the texts. As ever, his diction was crisp and clear; the desire to convey every nuance of the poetry at times took precedence over pure vocal beauty or melodic lyricism, but was evidence of absolute dramatic integrity.
Although there was no continuous ‘narrative’ running through this recital, which was performed without an interval, two archetypal Romantic themes to which the texts repeatedly returned provided unity — unattainable love and alienation. The opening song, ‘Widerschein’ (‘Reflection’), established a subdued mood. Coloured by the lower registers of piano and voice, a halting, melodic line tells of the fisherman who waits ‘sullenly’ on the bridge for his absent love; as he dreams, a radiant vision is reflected in the water — a fitting metaphor for the unfulfilled yearning revealed in so many of the songs that followed. Here, Bostridge’s placement of the faltering vocal line was precise and controlled, but in ‘Der Winterabend’ (‘The winter evening’), his tone was more melancholic above restless semi-quavers in the right hand of the accompaniment. The melismatic close, ‘Seufze still, und sinne und sinne’ (‘Sign in silence, and muse and muse’), plaintively conveyed the old man’s ceaseless meditations as he awaits the coming of night and death. It is such attention to textual and musical detail that reveals Bostridge’s immersion and genuine involvement in the world of each song.
‘Die Sterne’ (‘The stars’) was more assertive, driven by the piano’s dactylic rhythm which mimics the stars’ heavenly shining. At times, however, Pappano’s boisterous accompaniment overwhelmed the voice; indeed, throughout the recital his playing, while undoubtedly committed, often lacked discretion and restraint, and was marked by over-use of the sustaining pedal and some cloudiness of texture.
‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’), gathered into a collection — and shrewdly titled — by the Viennese publisher, Tobias Haslinger, comprises seven settings of Rellstab and six of Heine. This was an anguished account: not a ‘story’, rather variations on the theme of emotional vulnerability. Extreme contrasts characterise the Rellstab songs. The subtly shifting modulations of ‘Liebesbotschaft’ (‘Love’s message’), matched by a perfectly understated dialogue between the voice and the inner lines of the accompaniment, were followed by Pappano’s turbulent drum rhythms at the opening and close of ‘Kriegers Ahnung’ (‘Warrior’s foreboding’), where dreams of his beloved disturb the soldier’s intimations of imminent death. Bostridge and Pappano highlighted the inner contrasts too, underlining affective harmonic movements, drawing out the lyricism of the soldier’s bitter-sweet recollections, “How often have I dreamt sweet dreams/ resting on her warm breast!” Such melancholy brooding was deftly swept away by the feverish questioning of ‘Frühlings-Sehnsucht’ (‘Spring longing’); Pappano’s tremulous triplets precipitated a frenetic rush to the poet’s last passionate plea, “Who shall finally quell my longing?” The answer, “Nur Du!”, (“only you!”) was an exhausted cry of despair.
‘Ständchen’ (‘Serenade’) was fittingly more restrained; and here Pappano did sustain a deft staccato throughout, underpinning the gentle nocturnal imploring of the poet’s song, which rise to a suggestive final call, “Komm, beglücke mich!” (“Come — make me happy!”). ‘In der Ferne’ (‘Far away’) was a sombre rendition of the Romantic wanderer’s alienation: the voice sank to its lowest registers, a desolate pianissimo revealing that “alas, no blessing follows him/ on his way!” Bostridge balanced detailed attention to individual words — “Nirgend verweilender” (“you who never linger”) — with carefully shaped melodic arches, bringing a fleeting warmth to the protagonist’s memories of whispering breezes and sunbeams. ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) was a jauntily ironic conclusion, with its tripping accompaniment rhythms and deceptively nonchalant “Farewells!”
The Heine songs are more concentrated in their intensity, and as the performers moved swiftly from one song to the next, there was a disturbing accumulation of dramatic tension. The misery and self-pity of ‘Der Atlas’ (‘Atlas’) was shocking in its honesty; the oppressiveness of ‘Die Stadt’ (‘’The town’) — with its diminished harmonies and bare, profound close — overwhelming. Bostridge brought a gentle tenderness to the major-key second verse of ‘Ihr Bild’ (“Her likeness”), striking after the cold unisons of the opening, and dashed away by the forceful admission in the last line, “I have lost you!” The stillness at the opening of ‘Am Meer’ (“By the sea”) seemed to offer the hint of some repose and consolation, but rapidly declined into a pained and angry revelation of a woman’s betrayal. But it was the closing song, ‘Der Doppelgänger’ (‘The wraith’), that brought forth the most remarkable display of emotional catharsis, building from veiled beginnings to tormented self-castigations. With astonishing courage, Bostridge relished the free declamations, interpreting every detail, fully becoming the man “wracked with pain” in both voice and body.
Seidl's 'Die Taubenpost' was performed as a brief encore, momentarily alleviating the anguish but not fully dispelling the darkness as we exited the Hall, into the fading evening light.