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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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?
01 Jun 2010
Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall
One very tall and gaunt,one short and stocky, one introspective, one effusive : Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera house make an odd couple, but they've partnered each other musically for many years. It's a good relationship, as this recital at the Wigmore Hall demonstrated.
The heart of the programme was Schwanengesang, D957 (1828) which Bostridge and Pappano recorded in 2009. For this recital, they chose only three extra songs (different from those on the CD), which made for a short evening. We exited the Wigmore Hall while it was still twilight. Whether this was planned or not,it was appropriate. The songs in Schwanengesang were written in Schubert’s own twilight. They were collected and titled posthumously.
All music, almost by definition, is dramatic, but there are many forms of drama. Lieder is quiet and introspective, “inner” drama. where truth comes from other than voice depth matters. That’s why I have so much respect for Ian Bostridge. Lieder is an intellectual genre, and he’s unusually sensitive to meaning. There’s nothing safe or bland about his singing, but Lieder isn’t bland or safe.
Bostridge performances can be unpredictable. Sometimes he holds back emotionally, which is understandable, but when he ignites, he can be amazing. In this performance, he seemed more relaxed than usual, which was an interesting compromise. Pappano has a stabilizing influence which can pay dividends as their recording of Hugo Wolf songs shows. Bostridge thrives when he has a supportive pianist, but sometimes his finest work comes when the support pushes him creatively.
Widerschein D949 began with a flourish, Bostridge creating a soaring arc on the phrase “Die Geliebte säumt”,but became more restrained after that first outburst. In Winterabend D938, heavy snow muffles the sounds of the busy world outside, but the poet has internalized the relentless snowfall. “Sinne, und sinne”. Pappano’s playing caught the muffle well, but the danger is that the mood can turn soporific.
This muted spirit carried over through Die Sterne D939 and into the first few songs of Schwanengesang. Understatement can work well with Schubert, even in Kreiger’s Ahnung, where the images are of battle, but the message is of rest, possibly eternal.
Nonetheless, there are other moods in this collection. For Ständchen, Bostridge quickened the pace, because the poet is quivering with anticipation that his lover might appear. Chances are that Schubert knew, and Rellstab knew, that she won’t show. In Lieder, love is usually unrequited.
The Heine Settings provide sterner material. In Der Atlas, Bostridge’s voice broke out of repose, taking on a harder, more violent edge, which fits the song, and made a nice change from the refinement that had gone before. In contrast, Der Fischermädchen was deliciously free, Bostridge making clear the erotic mischief in the last stanza.
By this stage, the contemplation in Schwanengesang starts to darken, eerily. Bostridge was now much more in his element. The strange, clarinet-like quality of his voice is ideally suited to evocations of the surreal. Die Stadt and An Meer felt mysterious, as they should be. Heine doesn’t do landscape for its own sake. In Der Doppelgänger, Bostridge used the extreme dynamic range to heighten the sense of mounting horror. No peaceful contemplation here. He spat the words out, emphatically. “Du, Doppelgänger! du bleicher Geselle!” No need to build beauty or softness. It’s a song of violent accusation. Bostridge’s lips curled, horrified loathing etched in his features.