24 Oct 2010
Divas and Divos Concert, Manitoba
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
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?
It’s every opera director’s nightmare.
With your production just days away, one of your scheduled singers becomes ill. You scramble around to find a replacement. Lo and behold, you find a wonderfully reliable and willing fill-in. All is well.
But it doesn’t end there! At the very last moment, another singer falls ill. This time there isn’t time to put another artist in her place. But the show must go on — so you tinker with the program, adapt and adjust as best you can.
That’s the saga of Manitoba Opera Association’s (MOA) season opening presentation, Divas and Divos Concert on Saturday, October 16 at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg. Tenor David Pomeroy and soprano Mariateresa Magisano were both forced to bow out due to illness. From the reaction of the healthy-sized audience during the performance, however, you’d never suspect there had been a single glitch.
The show was accurately billed as “an evening of opera hits and favourites performed by six gifted singers,” (well, there were five). Add to this the 60-member Manitoba Opera Chorus and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) under the direction of Tadeusz Biernacki and you have yourself an event.
Hosted by the affable and surprisingly humorous general director and CEO of MOA, Larry Desrochers, the evening moved along smoothly, with the varied repertoire and solid performances capturing our attention and emotions.
Canadian soprano Joni Henson was first up with “Ebben! Ne andrò lontan” from Catalani’s La Wally. Henson displayed superb control and a fully refined tone that made for a dramatic and very poised delivery. No lack of power here, as she took the aria from subtle to intense, building gradually to a vivid conclusion.
Later in the evening, Henson transformed herself into Rusalka from Dvořák’s opera of the same name in the beautiful “Song to the Moon.” She was spot on with the requisite delicacy, balanced with just the right dose of authority. Best of all — she sang with a true sense of joy.
Baritone Pierre-Étienne Bergeron was less successful as Don Giovanni in his duet “Là ci darem la mano” with Zerlina, sung by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal. His light voice didn’t carry well and only served to emphasize the richness of Segal’s tone and delightfully crisp, clear delivery. The two blended nicely in the tutti sections, although Bergeron tended to reach for his upper register.
In the famous Champagne Aria, “Fin ch’han dal vino,” he opted for a subtle approach, when it really needed swagger and a bit of bluster. Lacking the power to penetrate the hall, he was drowned out by the WSO — a shame, as what we could hear of Bergeron sounded pleasant. It would be good to hear him again with a few more productions under his belt.
Segal showed her impressive range in “O mio Fernando” from La Favorita by Donizetti. Finely crafted lines and convincing acting made us feel her sorrow. The beautiful harp and French horn solos added to the bittersweet ambiance of this aria.
Filling in for the ailing Pomeroy was American tenor Jeffrey Springer, who almost brought the house down. He had us riveted to our seats in his spine-tingling rendition of “E lucevan le stelle” from Puccini’s Tosca. With expression to spare, he exuded passion and longing. In “O soave fanciulla” from La Boheme, you’d have sworn he was on a full set instead of a sparse concert stage the way he brought the story to life. The only artist to move around the stage (much appreciated by audience members stage left), his expansive voice and expressive execution thrilled listeners. His final note dripped with sweetness.
The opera chorus emerged between soloists with familiar choruses that had audience members swaying from side to side and smiling. “Va, pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco was truly uplifting, with the WSO bouncing along in an Alberti bass line. Nicely phrased, this had a rousing glow that was entirely refreshing. Biernacki’s energy never wavered, his ease with the score a result of years of experience.
Veteran bass-baritone David Watson made a few brief appearances, most notably given the honour of performing the final aria of the night. As the villainous police chief Baron Scarpia from Tosca, he brought his reliably resonant voice to “Va Tosca (Te Deum).” Watson sang with great dramatic conviction and, with the eerie church bells chiming, strains from the organ and the big bass drum tolling, this was a masterful finale.