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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
12 Jul 2010
Handel’s Serse (Xerxes) at Iford Manor
Something rather extraordinary happened to opera seria in 1738. The
acknowledged master of that time, London’s George Frideric Handel,
presented two new operas at the King’s Theatre: Faramondo and
They were stylistically very different and with the latter the
German-born composer threw caution to the winds both musically and
It was a bad call at the time as Serse flopped completely. The trouble was
that he dared to change a tried and tested formula: the wholly serious, or
tragic, seria format was infiltrated by comic or buffo
elements; he mixed characters of both high and low class within the drama, and
he even tinkered with the classic A-B-A da capo form of the arias. In
Serse much of the vocal music is in arioso form, which drives
the action forward more than the traditional, more musically complex da
capo format. All this was too much for London audiences at the time and
Handel lost money and soon after abandoned opera for the oratorio form. Luckily
for us, today we can appreciate his innovations and revel in them — as
indeed did the audience at Iford Opera in Wiltshire last Friday night.
Andrew Radley as Arsamene [Photo courtesy of Iford Opera]
Once again, Iford Arts is to be congratulated for rising so magnificently
above the apparent limitations of its charming venue — one could indeed
argue that those very limitations of size and accessibility produce something
special time and again and last night was no exception. Iford encourages young
talent and in its regular offerings of Handel masterpieces in intimate
surroundings it also encourages the singers to concentrate on expression and
colour, as they do not need to worry about pushing their voices.
The usual convoluted Handel plot of misplaced affections, thwarted plans,
ladies (and men) in disguise and the triumph of love and duty (in varying
degrees) was efficiently translated into the tiny, greenery-draped colonnaded
space that is the delightful Iford Cloister by director David Freeman. Although
advertised as “Serse”, the opera was given in English and this
“Xerxes” was a translation/edit by Andrew Jones which revived
memories of the famous Hytner production of the 1980’s in its language,
if not its staging. The lively score, regretfully drastically abridged, was
offered in spicy miniature by the well-regarded players of La Nuova
Musica directed from the harpsicord by David Bates who encouraged some
really meaty, full-blooded playing from his 10 piece ensemble. In Acts I and II
the cast were somewhat depressingly attired in budget-store casuals with a bit
of sequin tat here and there to suggest royalty (one felt particularly for the
female singers who suffered very unflattering wardrobes — surely at odds
with the story?) but come Act III things improved a little. A few pyrotechnics,
many tiny candles, and a clever exploding model bridge (to take King Xerxes
across the Hellespont into Greece) made the most of the tiny stage area.
Kristin Finnigan [Photo by and courtesy of Ralph Ripley]
More importantly, there was much to admire vocally with some excellent
singing from the young cast, many of whom are at the beginning of their careers
yet showed remarkable histrionic as well as musical abilities in this most
demanding of genres. There was no one outstanding performer, but we left with
perhaps three strong memories: the exciting contralto voice of young Kristin
Finnigan (Amastre) which promises to help revive the great tradition of this
most English of voice types, the impressive comic timing and agile baritone of
William Townend (Elviro) and the expressive warm-toned countertenor of Andrew
Radley (Arsamene). Verity Parker impressed with some spot-on high coloratura as
Romilda whilst also singing with some nice supple tone. She was contrasted
effectively with Kristy Swift in the soubrette role of Atalanta who
brought out the foxiness of this character with some sparkling high notes and
agile phrasing. Rather unusually, this production gave the title role to a
countertenor, the more experienced William Purefoy. These days, it’s more
often a mezzo soprano role (although written by Handel for a soprano
castrato of great renown, Caffarelli) but here at Iford the tiny stage
and proximity of the audience enables the less powerful countertenor voice to
take it on. Purefoy coped well enough with the high tessitura of this
demanding role, if not convincing us dramatically. His was no dangerously
vindictive King but rather a placid, slightly academic, royal. This was
particularly so in the scenes with his stage brother Prince Arsamenes, when
Radley acted for both of them. Purefoy is certainly a good singer (his
“rage” aria, Crudie furie in Act III was efficiently
despatched despite its huge demands on the singer) but rather miscast here.
The role of the bluff, if dim, General Ariodate was robustly taken by
baritone Jonathan Brown who made much of his limited role whilst contralto
Kristin Finnigan was forced to do the same. How one longed to hear more of
Amastre’s music and less of her creeping around the cloister, forever
listening to the plotting of others’ loves. Finnigan might just be
something special in the making — directors take note.
Cutting Handel is a fact of life — unpleasant but sometimes necessary
— but for this writer there were just too many “cuts too
far”. So many important, and lovely, arias went unheard. Everyone comes
to Iford by car (there is no evening public transport in this idyllic rural
location) so why not revel in more of Handel’s sublime music and get home
half an hour later? After all, another thirty minutes in this beautiful place,
with music of this quality, is hardly an imposition.
© Sue Loder 2010
Serse, by G.F. Handel continues on the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th
July at Iford, near Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, U.K. More information: www.ifordarts.co.uk