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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?
24 Oct 2010
Il Postino at Los Angeles Opera
An American opera house premieres a new work by a Mexico-born composer, to his own libretto in Spanish based on a film in Italian by an English director about an unlikely friendship the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda found when in exile on a small Italian island.
Such wonderfully polyglot origins promise a more original and creative opera that Daniel Catán’s Il Postino turns out to be (Catán chose to keep the original Italian title). However, with Placido Domingo’s starpower and an endearing portrayal of the title character by Charles Castronovo, the Los Angeles Opera audience on the second night of the opera’s premiere run found much to applaud.
Catán is best known for Florencia en el Amazonas, his 1996 work that has enjoyed a fair number of performances since its debut, although a house as prestigious as the Metropolitan Opera, for example, seems to have no interest. Reviews of Catán’s music for his latest work still rely on comparisons to more famous composers for reference. The strongest element of Il Postino’s score is rhythmic; Catán often employs unusual meters and phrasing that give a sort of stutter-step feel to some of the music. His orchestration is colorful, if somewhat reliant on string outpourings at moment of dramatic and romantic effusion. Somehow he manages the trick of writing music with a melodic tinge without actually creating any strong melodic ideas. An impassioned rising motif that slowly resolves to the tonic pops up fairly frequently in the score, especially in the music for Mario Ruoppolo, the title character. Unfortunately, this one bit really does sound like Puccini - specifically, like a phrase from the score for La Rondine. Other than that, it’s wrong to call Catán’s music Puccini-esque - Catán has neither the melodic facility or grasp of using music to push the drama forward, rather than merely underscore it. If comparisons must be made, your reviewer heard a fair amount of Copland-like dance rhythms and sparse but attractive harmonies.
But his music is stronger than his libretto. The first two acts were given without intermission, and Catán chose to follow a screenplay’s quick changing scene formulation. So first we meet Mario at his humble home, and then from backstage a simple set rolls out depicting Neruda’s home in exile. This happened over and over, while a rather banal love story for Mario and a superfluous subplot about a corrupt politician and the island’s water supply interrupt the growing bond between the famous poet and his naive but charming postman. The last act’s storytelling really gets crude, with Vladimir Chernov’s Giorgio running on every couple minutes with some news about Neruda’s travels away from the island, and even a couple of awkward news-reel interpolations.
Still, by the time of the final scene, some emotional weight has been earned, and when the regretful Neruda is joined on stage by Mario (even though the character has died off stage at this point), most any viewer will be moved. Catán’s music is also at its best here - he stops trying to force a climax and lets the gentle story end with some lovely soft singing from the two male leads.
Domingo was excellent in the role of Neruda, although the lower part of his voice was surprisingly weak, given his recent forays into baritone territory. Catán gives all the main characters aria-like moments, and Domingo’s Neruda starts off with a hymn to his wife’s naked body. In fact, Neruda in the opera comes off as more than a bit self-involved and self-pleased, making Mario’s affection for the famous older man seem just a bit odd and obsessive. Nonetheless, Charles Castronovo, light-voiced though he may be, made his simple, love-besotted postman a real figure. The original casting had set Rolando Villazon for the role, who might well have covered the character's pathos with on-stage hi-jinks. As Mario’s love interest Beatrice, Amanda Squitieri sang out, sometimes covering her tenor co-star. Her opening aria, a self-introduction, is one of Catán’s weaker moments - dramatically inept and unmemorable musically. Cristina Gallardo-Domas has little to do as Neruda’s wife, and Nancy Fabiola-Herrera, as Beatrice’s gun-toting mama, got a few laughs.
Amanda Squitieri as Beatrice and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruoppolo
Conductor Grant Gershon managed the trickier rhythms of the score well. Director Ron Daniels couldn’t do much to ameliorate the wearing effect of the frequent scene changes, but he did elicit strong acting performances from the singers. Riccardo Hernandez created some nice costumes, but Los Angeles Opera’s budget restraints didn’t give him much to work with. In act three the budget seems to have run out altogether; other than a ridiculous set of pipes for the promised water system, the act mostly plays out on a bare stage, with some unimpressive projections and newsreel footage (designed by Philip Bussmann).
If Domingo chooses to, he can take Il Postino around the world to some of the more prestigious opera houses. It’s certainly a pleasant show, even a crowd-pleaser. But the opera’s long-term prospects don’t seem any more promising than those, say, of the U.S. Postal Service.