Recently in Performances
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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
10 Aug 2010
Middle Ages Next to Come
According to Paulus Diaconus’ Historia Langobardorum, both
Lombard sovereigns warring for supremacy in late 7th-century Italy — the
legitimate king Perctarit and Grimuald the usurper — behaved rather fairly to
each other and their families.
Above all, there is no evidence that they would
compete for queen Rodelinda, who instead was exiled to Benevento with her
little son Cunincpert and lived peacefully there until Perctarit, after finally
recovering the throne, summoned her back to the kingdom’s capital
Turning into melodrama characters those practical barbarians, more
interested in power than in romance or bloody vengeance, was the endeavor of
such Baroque playwrights as the French Pierre Corneille and the Florentine
Antonio Salvi. The latter’s 1710 libretto for Giacomo Antonio Perti
(Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi), drastically pruned by Nicola
Haym for the London stage, was set to music by Handel in 1725. It immediately
proved a resounding success, also thanks to a cast including soprano Francesca
Cuzzoni in the title role, the legendary Senesino as Bertarido, and some of the
best singers available in the side-roles: tenor Francesco Borosini, bass
Giuseppe Maria Boschi, and alto castrato Andrea Pacini.
Franco Fagioli as Bertarido [Photo by Laera]
The present staging in Martina Franca, a festival traditionally claiming to
“authentic” performing practice, plunged the romanticized
18th-century music drama back into the darkest Middle Ages, or into a
“Middle Ages next-to-come”, as phrased by director Rosetta Cucchi.
At least visually, through the combination of muddy and disheveled landscapes
with costumes (by Claudia Pernigotti) featuring leather, rags, metal
decorations, and heavy-duty boots. Entertaining enough, but how much
“authentic” is questionable, if only one checks Senesino’s
portrait as Bertarido in the flamboyant livery of a Hungarian haiduk,
as painted by John Vanderbank in 1725. At the most, this is
Regietheater that dare not speak its name, a compromise likely to
dissatisfy modernists and authenticists alike.
The show’s musical side was far more convincing, with the Swiss
conductor Diego Fasolis succeeding to elicit from the festival orchestra
— equipped with modern instruments plus harpsichord, theorbo and Baroque
flute — a sound that was both luscious and historically informed. Within
an evenly balanced company, the Argentinean alto Franco Fagioli (Bertarido)
towered for projection, agility, seamless transition between registers,
unfailing musicianship. His manly color and stage charisma may set a new
standard among countertenors. As Rodelinda, mezzo Sonia Ganassi tended to
underact throughout and suffered some strain in the upper register. For her
convenience, a couple of high pitches were transposed an octave lower, and her
whole climactic aria “Ombre, piante” was set in G minor instead of
the original B minor. Nevertheless, she sang with an elegant restraint hitherto
unnoticed in her main repertoire, stretching from Rossini and Donizetti to
Her sister-in-fiction Eduige (the established Baroque specialist Marina De
Liso) outplayed her as to style awareness, consistently unfolding hot
temperament and fanciful coloratura. On the contrary, both the villain
Grimoaldo (Paolo Fanale) and the arch-villain Garibaldo (Gezim Myshketa) were
absolute beginners in the field of early opera, yet delivered their fast runs
and stalking utterances pretty nicely. A further pleasant surprise was the male
alto Antonio Giovannini, who lent the loyal Unulfo mellow color, tasteful
da capos and lots of acting stamina, particularly in the alternative
E-minor version of “Sono i colpi della sorte” after the Hallische
To many affectionate Handelians, the opportunity to hear this and some more
passages restored to the composer’s final intentions was a novelty. Yet
the claim of a “world premiere in Andrew V. Jones’ critical
edition” is mere pressroom hype. The actual premiere with HHA material
before official publication was in Glyndebourne 1998, followed by the Göttingen
Händel-Festspiele in 2000 and sundry houses worldwide. Anyway, the new artistic
manager in Martina Franca, Mr. Alberto Triola, can rightfully boast for
bringing to attention a dramatic masterpiece which, despite its Italian
subject, was hitherto neglected by the major opera theaters in Italy.