Recently in Performances
In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.
With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past
Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.
Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.
The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.
Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of
the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to
say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for
the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.
Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.
Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found
myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.
This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been
supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th
birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to
England aged 12.
Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.
Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in
return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if
anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look
Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of
‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do
we see it, though.
Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus
Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb
Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his
There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for
double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player
which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the
relaxed mood of the summer evening.
George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of
Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely
have delighted Liberace.
Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.
Distinguished theatre director Michael
Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of
Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse
in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.
Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of
Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.
Having been privileged already to see in little over two months two great productions of Die Meistersinger, one in Paris (Stefan Herheim) and one in Munich (David Bösch), I was unable to resist the prospect of a third staging, at Glyndebourne.
‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory
Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a
short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s
production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny
Opera at the Olivier Theatre.
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.