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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?
18 Aug 2010
Mozart and Rossini Finales at Grant Park, Chicago
During a recent concert at the Grant Park Music Festival, held on this
occasion in the adjacent Harris Theater, members of the Ryan Opera Center of
Lyric Opera of Chicago presented ensembles from four operas, two each by Mozart
and by Rossini.
The finales from Act I of Rossini’s La
Cenerentola and Act II of Don Giovanni were featured in the fist
half of the program; after intermission, the finales from Act I of
L’Italiana in Algeri and Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro
concluded the program. Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra.
Already in the first ensemble from La Cenerentola a strong impression was
made by the individual voices and their abilities to interact in the collective
spirit of the composition. Tenor René Barbera and baritone Paul La Rosa began
the famous “Zitto, zitto: piano, piano” [“Hush, hush: softly,
softly”] as the characters Don Ramiro and Dandini evaluate
Cinderella’s step-sisters. Both men showed appropriate dramatic
sensitivity, just as the sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung by Jennifer Jakob and
Katherine Lerner, entered with their frenetic appeals and comments. Ms. Jakob
and Ms. Lerner acted well with their accomplished voices, with the others all
leading to an announcement by Alidoro that a “dama incognita”
[“an unknown woman”] had arrived at the festivity. In the role of
Alidoro, Evan Boyer displayed a sonorous and eloquent bass-baritone voice which
he used to good effect in this important role. Attention then centered on the
Cenerentola of Emily Fons, who entered the stage with both lyrical and physical
grace. As her presence increased, Ms. Fons enhanced the impression she gave
with an assured vocal technique and a mezzo-soprano range with an upper
extension equal to the demands of so many female Rossinian lead roles. Her
decorations on “Sprezzo” [“I scorn”] and
“rispetto” [“respect”] were impeccable and sung with a
florid and clearly traced line. Don Ramiro’s reaction to the unknown
woman led to a well-rehearsed conclusion in which all delivered their
impressions of confused gaiety.
In the finale from Don Giovanni several of the above singers were
joined by additional members of the Ryan Center. After a bright orchestral
introduction under Kalmar’s direction Mr. La Rosa gave a lyrical and
confident assumption of the role of Don Giovanni. His Leporello was sung by Sam
Handley, whose deeper and equally well-schooled bass-baritone made him a
believable foil to the Don. Ms. Fons took on the role of Donna Elvira with
superbly dramatic top notes in her fervent appeals; Amanda Majeski sang Donna
Anna with an exquisite sense of pitch and believable dramatic poise, both
qualities so vital to the wronged noblewoman. Craig Irvin gave solid and even
intonation to the role of the statue, and Ms. Jakob was a sprightly, memorable
In the second half of the program several singers shifted to leading roles
in the excerpt from L’Italiana in Algeri. Ms. Lerner delighted
as Isabella with her combination of acting and descent to a lower register,
while Ms. Fons and Ms. Jakob sang smaller yet important roles contributing to
the atmosphere of the Eastern court where Isabella, the Italiana, is captive.
Perhaps most impressive in this scene was Mr. Handley’s fluid, seamless
approach to the bass role of the Mustafá. So often taken simply as a comic
part, it is refreshing to hear a truly fine, young basso cantante give
lyrical expression to the ruler’s yearnings. The onomatopoetic conclusion
received a dramatically disciplined and comic touch.
The final selection from Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro featured Mr.
La Rosa as the Count and Ms. Majeski as the Countess. Both sang committed,
believable performances as the noble couple caught in their own
misunderstandings and comic, marital deceptions. The supporting characters,
especially the Susanna of Ms. Jakob, lent a sense of collective confusion in
the spirit of Mozart’s delightful ensemble writing. The Grant Park Music
Festival is to be commended for showcasing the talents of these performers who
have distinguished themselves in such a variety of operatic roles.