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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
18 Jun 2010
Verdi's Falstaff at The Metropolitan Opera, 1992
A Franco Zeffirelli production for The Metropolitan Opera typically prompts the use of adjectives such as “grandiose,” or “gorgeous” on the positive end or “gaudy” and “gratuitous” on the negative.
However, his Metropolitan Opera staging of Verdi’s late masterpiece Falstaff, decades old and still in use, shows the Italian director in a subtler light. Refreshed since its 1960s’ debut, the sets as seen in this DVD of a 1992 televised performance do not exactly look fresh, but a certain worn aspect fits in well with the scene locations of a seedy tavern and the middle-class home of one of the merry wives. Only the final forest tableaux, modestly attractive, may make some viewers wish Zeffirelli had given into his more ostentatious urges. Then again, the rather drab video probably mutes some of the intended effect.
When a true star singer takes the title role, that central performance can overwhelm the performances of the members of what should be an ensemble cast. That doesn’t happen here, and the show is the better for it. Paul Plishka continues to be a valuable resource as a house singer for the Met, and he makes the most of this opportunity for a rare leading role. He finds both the laughable delusions of the ostensible nobleman and Sir John’s piquant humanity. He may not make the most of the role’s musical opportunities for characterization, yet his subtler approach swerves the composer’s intent very well.
The strength of the women would justify a return to the title of Shakespeare’s source, The Merry Wives of Windsor. Mirella Freni is a magnificent Mrs. Ford, playful, yet commanding. Near the start of their careers, both Barbara Bonney and Susan Graham sing with youthful attractiveness, though with not as much character as that of the veteran cast members. The perfect example of that comes in Marilyn Horne’s Miss Quickly. A playful Ms. Horne uses her expert comic timing to great effect, and that over-developed richness of her voice that made many of her late performances heavy going for some people does not get much use in Verdi’s fleet-footed writing. A young Frank Lopardo shines in his brief act three solo. Bruno Pola as Ford makes for an almost too gruff and unpleasant comic foil, and what should be his highlight moment slows down the pace.
James Levine loves the energy and rhythmic pulse of the score; those who find his approach eventually exhausting will surely get tired. A good counterpart to this very well sung Falstaff in traditional garb is the Mehta/Raimondi update from the Maggio Musicale Florentine, also well-sung but with an edgier comic profile.