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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 Jun 2010
Die Walküre in San Francisco
Ring fever rages on. San Francisco has just unveiled its Walküre the completed cycle to take place next June. Gratefully the price of the SFO effort has not become a topic of conversation, as has the cost of the just completed L.A. Ring
Whispers about the price tag of the upcoming Met Ring suggest the proportions of a foreign war.
Gratefully as well the SFO Rheingold and Walküre have looked like opera, and not like crazed imitations of Star Wars, so they are easier to talk about. Though not necessarily a more or less compelling take on Wagner’s mega opera, this plain SFO Ring is unfolding as conceptually direct and wonderfully human.
Two years ago Rheingold got the San Francisco Ring off to a rocky start with its light weight cast and unfocused staging. Still it was a promising beginning with lots of ideas, some of which did not work all that well (the Nibelheim special effects as example). But lots of fun came out of its director Francesca Zambello who imposed a light touch on the divine machinations that initiate this long saga of greed and love, affectionately capturing the naivete, optimism and entrepreneurial fun that built our cities.
Conductor Donald Runnicles got right to the point in Walküre, not even allowing the applause that greeted him to die before attacking the complications motivated by Wotan’s insecurities. The War Memorial Opera House is particularly kind to Wagner, allowing the transparency within his massive orchestral sound to project the depth of his mountainous landscapes, and as well the myriad of musical motivations to coexist amongst themselves and within this cosmic nature. Mo. Runnicles exploited the Walküre score to its utmost, a remarkably rich reading.
Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde, Raymond Aceto as Hunding and Christopher Ventris as Siegmund
Die Walküre is no place for lightweights (as in fact Rheingold is not either), and San Francisco Opera rose to the occasion with a nearly stellar cast. The Siegmund of English tenor Christopher Ventris captured the youth of a young hero, his voice beating with energy, the Sieglinde of Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek soared vocally over the maelstrom with the unborn hero in her womb. But it was Swedish sopranto Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde whose voice rose over all else as the energy and psychic spirit of Wotan, her creator and the world’s master builder.
This is an American Ring (the mountains are surely our California Sierras, though there is no defining land or river-scape). Hunding’s cabin is an American primitive wood facade with a screen door that can be found no where else in the world other than in middle America. American bass Raymond Aceto in a long sleeved winter undershirt with suspenders was a medium voiced Hunding, his strut and menace hiding this character’s predestined impotence. Paired with his unhappy, beaten and defeated wife, Sieglinde in a ill fitting, sad pale blue dress Hunding, strangely, evoked sympathy.
Costumer Catherine Zuber dressed German mezzo Janina Baechle as Wotan’s wife Fricka in a sort of purple beaux arts long gown in which she stolidly prevailed as a wet-blanket moral conscience. Meanwhile Wotan, American bass Mark Delavan from the Rheingold cast, muttered and spat effectively as some sort of railroad tycoon, but was vocally pallid even before running out of voice (June 22).
Wendy Bryn Harmer as Gerhilde, Suzanne Hendrix as Schwerleite, Tamara Wapinsky as Helmwige, Pamela Dillard as Grimgerde, Daveda Karanas as Waltraute, Maya Lahyani as Siegrune, Priti Gandhi as Rossweise and Molly Fillmore as Ortlinde
Wotan’s Valhalla is seen through the window of a massive high rise. It was not specifically San Francisco but a high rise city profile that is specifically American, with echoes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Set design for this American Ring is by Michael Yeargan who, with Mme. Zambello is working in a determined post-modern vocabulary, Wotan’s desk a huge table with four huge wooden claws as legs, the following scene moving onto the contemporary detritus under an abandoned elevated freeway, and finally an abstract space for the Valkyries and the Wotan farewell to Brünnhilde.
Beautiful, detailed lighting by Mark McCullough subtly caught a real life wolf-dog and his cub racing across the stage as Wotan was about to kill his son, connecting the innocence of real nature to the tragedies of cosmic destiny. McCullough magically captured the steel gray folds of Wotan’s coat covering the sleeping Brünnhilde as a ring of real fire began to encircle the stage, this real fire somehow making the fairytale ending of the Ring’s second installment humanly real, and unusually moving.
Everything in this Ring was ordinary, and that was its triumph. Rarely has operatic acting achieved this level of realism delicately sitting on the verge of expressionism. This accomplishment signals heroic efforts of stage direction plus determined commitment from singers. Miraculously this staging melted effortlessly into the Runnicles reading of the score, the abstract musical motivations from the pit rendered on the stage in movement that effortlessly and truly portrayed complex dramatic motivations. Gesamtkunstwerk indeed!
It was a good night at San Francisco Opera.