29 Oct 2010
New York Festival of Song
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
“Don’t I have the coolest job in the world?” said Steven Blier.
He was talking from the stage about the day mezzo Sasha Cooke walked into his office fresh off the boat from Texas and the day tenor Paul Appleby waltzed in from Indiana. And another hundred people just got off of the train…. If they are terrific singers, I hope they turned to the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS). I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t.
Paul Appleby [Photo by Ken Howard]
The first concert of this year’s series was devoted to youth, and specialized accordingly in songs not merely about youth but often those composed by very young composers, composers who went on to bigger things. But those of us who love early Verdi operas and early Rodgers & Hart musicals and the Grateful Dead before they were everywhere appreciated the connoisseurship of reveling in very young Fauré and Schumann and Rorem and Busoni and Grieg and Ives and Sondheim—and slightly older Gershwin and Dylan. What themes inspire young composers to give a hint of how worthwhile they will become? Is it all lindenbäumen and young love’s first blight? Or is it … anticipation?
I first noticed Sasha Cooke when she sang the Sandman in the Met’s otherwise vocally undistinguished new Hänsel und Gretel, a moment of childlike magical glee, just right for Humperdinck. In a tiny hall like Merkin with its very live acoustic (when a small chorus sings there, you can hear each individual voice), she sounds quite different: Her voice is enormous, plush, lustrous, easily so, and perfectly supported. For most of a song recital, of course, she scales it back to merely very pretty, but whenever she reached an appropriate climax, restraint falls away like a superfluous shawl, and the results are resplendent—intimate, but hugely intimate. As an interpreter, she had the most fun becoming a small child for Ned Rorem’s “A Journey,” the bashful maiden boasting of her first conquest in Grieg’s “Verschwiegene Nachtigall,” where she slipped flawless little ornamental turns into the nightingale’s insinuating “Tandaradei,” the rather more sophisticated maiden of Hugo Wolf’s “Begegnung,” the aching hopefulness of Sondheim’s “Take Me to the World,” and—in duet with Appleby—the breathless expectant wonder and the contrasting, consummated coda of Charles Ives’s delicious “Memories” (“We’re sitting in the opera house”). She is a singing actress to anticipate and a voice to hear one of these days in a place where she can let it fly.
Sasha Cooke, Steven Blier and Paul Appleby
I haven’t heard Paul Appleby on the opera stage and, frankly, his voice seems (like Cooke’s) too delicious, too full-sized, too able to only be a concert singer, first rate as he is at that subtle skill. He has a smooth, supple delivery and inhabits his narrators: reveling in Schubert’s matchless invention in “Geheimnis” (Schubert was 19 at this point, almost an old master: the song is already D.491) and Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon.” Then, in moves and accent and exultant manner, he became with entire believability a Midwestern youth come to take the city by storm in Christopher Berg’s rollercoaster setting of Frank O’Hara’s “I’m Going to New York,” then cocky with adolescent sexual discovery in William Bolcom’s setting of Theodore Roethke’s “I Knew A Woman” and bitter with youthful disillusion in Marc Blitzstein’s “In the Clear.” His voice has power, but he holds it in reserve when portraying character; it comes out in songs like Paul Moravec’s setting of Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up.”
Later concerts this season will be devoted to Songs of Gay Life and Songs of the Iberian Peninsula. Spain has been a NYFOS destination before, but we are unlikely to run low on little-known Iberian song literature anytime soon.