14 Sep 2010
The Rake’s Progress at Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie
At some point it became a matter of honor for elite composers to have at least one go at a full length opera.
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
At some point it became a matter of honor for elite composers to have at least one go at a full length opera.
The resulting work usually becomes treasured by critics but somewhat less warmly received by the broader opera-going public. Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande is a gorgeous piece and almost surely a money loser when staged, at least for American companies. Of American companies as well, only the Metropolitan Opera seems able to gird its financial loins and put on Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron every few years. More recent works in this vein that tickle the rarefied fancies of professional opera journalists include Messiaen’s Saint Francois d’Assise and Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. The scores of these works, unsurprisingly, often demonstrate a sophistication and complexity beyond the reach of the humbler composers whose popular works keep opera house doors open. But an opera is more than a score.
For his sole full-length operatic venture, Igor Stravinsky composed a score to W. H Auden and Chester Kallman’s libretto for The Rake’s Progress that marries his brilliant rhythmic hi-jinks with a neo-classical homage, including set numbers for the characters. However, once Stravinsky’s mature compositional self emerged from the shadow of Rimsky-Korsakov, he hardly established himself as a memorable composer of melodies, and much of The Rake’s Progress glides by in a kind of tart musical glaze that seems ready to form an appealing tuneful idea but never does. The libretto earns points for its clever mutation of the original source material, a series of sketches by Hogarth. Despite having a world-class poet as part of the writing team, much of the language is weirdly awkward, and the story becomes just another twist on Faust/Mephistopheles tale. Stylized to the point of aridity, this is very very dry wine for connoisseurs.
The sheer theatrical imagination and sharpness of Robert LePage’s staging of The Rake’s Progress only reinforces these convictions for your reviewer. Filmed here in April 2007 at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, the cameras actually don’t do the optimal job of preserving the effect of Lepage’s best ideas as seen in the house (your reviewer saw this production in San Francisco a few years ago). Close-ups bring the viewer too near the theatrical make-up and flatten the charm of some of the best ideas, such as the inflatable trailer home, a delightful event seen live but less charming on film. The design, by Carl Fillion, appears to be inspired by the CinemaScope expanses of the American west as seen in George Stevens’ Giant. The connection to the material is dubious but it makes for some striking visuals.
An able but uncharismatic cast is one big part of the reason why this DVD is less entertaining than it promises to be. Tom Rakewell is almost as much of a bore when dissolute as he is when innocent at the opera’s start. Andrew Kennedy has a lyric tenor with some substance but little color, and he is one key performer done no favors by a farsighted camera person. Laura Claycomb sings a very pretty Anne Truelove, and there isn’t much more to do with the role than that. Surely Mephistopheles can afford a premium hair stylist, but William Shimmell’s Nick Shadow has the thinning hair and pasty complexion of a middle-aged politician. He’s more unappealing than demonic. As expected, Dagmar Peckova steals her scenes with a perky, limber Baba Turk.
Kazushi Ono conducts the La Monnaie forces with the attention to precision the score demands. Many people do esteem this work highly, and for those, this DVD surely counts as essential. For all others, the best option for this opera in this staging is to catch it live.