Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
06 Aug 2010
Prom 21 — Berlioz and Wagner
Period instruments and nineteenth-century grand opera are seldom found on the same stage — or even the same sentence — but as adventurous practitioners increasingly experiment in the repertoire of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it’s a sight and sound that will inevitably become more familiar.
And, that’s no bad thing. This concert, the first of Sir Simon
Rattle’s three Prom appearances this season, offered the opportunity to
hear two great romantic scores performed on contemporary instruments and if the
results of the lower pitch and the full, mellow tone of the OAE were not always
wholly successful in the dramatic contexts, they were certainly
thought-provoking and at times illuminating.
While the decision to present classic dramas of love and death by two
cultural giants, Shakespeare and Wagner, seemed a natural and sensible one, it
led to a slightly unbalanced programme, with the erotic love scene of
Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, forming a first half
lasting only 18 minutes — even in this rather slow reading by Rattle.
Berlioz’s vast structure and forces — nine double basses towered
over the centre of the platform — were shaped and guided with finesse by
Rattle, who was ever alert to the composer’s startling harmonic effects.
However, despite the use of copies of nineteenth-century woodwind instruments
(for example, the oboes played on models of German instruments c.1865, with an
easy, soft lower register; the bassoons employed French instruments c.1840 for
the Berlioz, switching to German post-1870 for the Wagner, the latter
possessing a darker, less reedy tone which blends well with the horns and
clarinets), the sharp individuality of particular instrumental lines was
somewhat softened, woodwind colours blending sweetly with the whole but not
always delivering their full dramatic impact.
A similar problem was apparent after the interval, in Act 2 of
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where the harmonious whole was
achieved at the expense of orchestral incisiveness. Wagner aimed for a unity of
instrumental and vocal lines, with the symphonic leitmotivic texture carrying
the burden of the emotional and dramatic narrative, in dialogue with
declamatory and naturalistic vocal melodies; but here the wash of orchestral
sound served primarily as a secure, relaxed back-drop to the singers, who were
therefore pushed to the foreground. Adding the fact that this was a concert
performance, with no scenery and little dramatic interaction between the
soloists, this was hardly the Gesamkunstwerk of Wagner’s
That said, the concordant orchestral cushion elicited by Rattle did evoke a
sense of ‘distance’, and an appropriately ethereal atmosphere, for
Tristan’s and Isolde’s desire can never be fulfilled in this world
and release from yearning will only be achieved through transcendence.
Moreover, particular instrumental effects were not neglected, and the rich
palette of the period orchestra was revealed: the off-stage horns signalling
the departure of the hunting party were strident and clamorous, while eerie sul
ponticello playing by the strings conveyed both the delicacy of the moment and
the anxious vulnerability of the lovers. Low woodwind colours intimated the
shift from the daylight world to the realms of night, from the mundane to the
oblivion of the sub-conscious.
With two renowned Wagnerian specialists in the cast, expectations were high,
and it was no surprise that the quality of the singing invested this
performance with vigour and compelling drama. Violeta Urmana, as Isolde, had no
difficulty filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, her powerful,
impassioned soprano always secure and focused, her tone thrillingly ecstatic.
Sadly, Ben Heppner’s Tristan was less assured and rather inconsistent.
While there is no doubting his innate appreciation of this musical language,
there were more than a few wobbles, as he struggled to project. Yet, the
exquisite sound for which he is renowned can still genuinely reveal
Tristan’s exaltation. Franz-Josef Selig negotiated King Mark’s long
monologue with confidence and clarity, conveying both the authority and stature
of the betrayed King and the pain caused by Tristan’s disloyalty. Sarah
Connolly communicated Brangäne’s distress thoughtfully, with controlled
phrasing and delivery. Timothy Robinson (Melot) and Henk Neven (Kurvenal)
completed the accomplished cast.
Overall this was a thoughtful and refined performance. But while these two
passionate romantic encounters certainly touched the heart they did not,
perhaps, quite reach to the soul.