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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.’
07 Jun 2010
Seeing Tosca at the Coliseum brings back happy memories, as it was a
performance of Tosca (in a revival of the Keith Warner production in the 1990s) which occasioned my very first trip to the ENO. That also happens to have been
the first time I ever saw Tosca.
Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The first time I came across Tosca was
five years earlier, in my early teens and long before I became really
interested in opera, when I was nonetheless gripped by the live international
TV broadcast from the authentic locations in Rome. That film’s star, Catherine
Malfitano, moved into opera direction herself six years ago, and it is she who
has been charged with ENO’s latest new staging.
The result is a competent, dramatically coherent and (how often these days
can one say this about a recent ENO staging of a repertoire standard?)
eminently revivable production. Above all, it stands out for the believability
of the characters — I can’t remember ever having seen such a natural,
genuine and un-stagey Act 1 love scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi, nor a
Scarpia who so successfully avoided villainous caricature.
The Act 1 set design gives a modern twist on a naturalistic setting, with a
slightly abstract, pixellated version of what is very definitely a depiction of
the actual interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle, particularly during the Te Deum
when a shift in the lighting results in the basilica’s characteristic shafts of
pale yellow light beaming down from the high windows. This coup-de-theatre by
lighting designer David Martin Jacques is one of many touches throughout the
opera which keep the production feeling true to its location, another being the
decision to leave both the Act 2 Cantata and the Shepherd Boy’s solo in the
The Act 2 staging is entirely straightforward, until the last few seconds
where a projection of an expanse of infinite star-filled space appears on the
back wall, a symbol of the simultaneous liberty and wilderness into which Tosca
moves following Scarpia’s murder. After that, Act 3 has a more abstract feel,
retaining the star-studded backdrop from the end of Act 2, with a striking
curved set which looked somewhat as though a ‘realistic’ recreation of the
uppermost reaches of the Castel Sant-Angelo had been tipped backwards through
ninety degrees. This for me was the one jarring note, principally because of
the considerable resultant visual resemblance to Act 2 of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s
Tristan und Isolde for Glyndebourne — I couldn’t help feeling that I
was watching the wrong opera, and that the music and visuals didn’t match. I
half-expected Tosca to make her final exit in the manner of Isolde in that
production, drifting off into space.
The title role was taken by the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz.
Although a substantial instrument — which I have previously showcased to
thrilling effect elsewhere, including in this very role with Opera Holland Park
— it rarely manages to dominate volume-wise above heavy Puccini
orchestration in a house the size of the Coliseum. Nonetheless it is a
beautifully-coloured, smooth and classy, and she brings the character to
vivacious and passionate life.
Her Cavaradossi was Julian Gavin — a phrase which gives me a certain
sense of deja vu, as I have now heard him in three different ENO productions of
the same opera. It is to his great credit that almost fourteen years after the
first time, he retains the vocal intensity and physical vigour of youth, but
now brings added value to the role with the more baritonal colours of his
increased vocal maturity. The spinto character of his upper voice made the big
moments thrilling, particularly ‘Vittoria!’, Cavaradossi’s political
ardour winning over his romantic ardour.
Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Scarpia was a good vocal match for Echalaz, perhaps
not quite as firmly in his element as in his recent memorable Rigoletto here
but a dangerous, vocally alluring snake in the grass. I suspect that like his
tenor colleague, Mr Michaels-Moore has sung multiple English versions of this
opera — one of the disadvantages of ENO’s use of surtitles is that it
highlights when the words sung do not match those which were supposed to be
sung, and there were a couple of such glitches.
The smaller roles were strongly assumed — Pauls Putninš was a
dramatically-compelling Angelotti despite a shortage of a vocal ‘edge’ to lend
urgency to his delivery, while ENO Young Singers Christopher Turner (Spoletta)
and James Gower (Sciarrone) were both eloquent and incisive.
On behalf of all singers-in-English, I grieve for ENO’s obsession with using
a different translation for every new staging. That sort of thing is inclined
to mess with singers’ minds. Considering that Puccini doesn’t tend to translate
well into English, the Amanda Holden translation used in David McVicar’s 2002
production was really quite respectable, bringing a natural rhythm to the text
within the tight constraints of the musical line. So why now revert to an
ancient and rather ungainly translation by the late Edmund Tracey? I hope other
English-language companies pick up on Holden’s translation so it doesn’t now
Under Ed Gardner, the orchestral sound was full of life and colour, with
special mention due to the vicious snarls of the trumpet in the torture scene.
The cello quartet just before ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was beautifully played
— when I saw the last production I vividly remember the passage being a
disaster, and it sounded so utterly different this time round that I had to
compare the orchestra lists in the two programmes. It would appear to have been
exactly the same cellists now as then, which underlines yet again the extent of
the good that Gardner’s directorship has done this band. Musically, this
performance is a triumph.
Ruth Elleson, May 2010