Recently in Performances
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?
27 Oct 2010
Piotr Beczala: Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera
Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is almost more musical than opera. Everyone knows the story, and it would be hard to compete with Shakespeare. Gounod wisely focused on music, rather than drama.
Hence the reputation of this opera has rested on its showpiece arias, and on
good performances. Piotr Beczala defined this production at the Royal Opera
House, London with an excellent Roméo, well shaped vocally and expressively
full of character.
Piotr Beczala as Roméo
Beczala is relatively new to Roméo, having created it at Salzburg in 2008,
and again in August 2010. Nino Machaidze sang Juliette at Salzburg this year
too, at later stages of the run, which started with Anna Netrebko and Beczala.
Pairing Beczala and Machaidze for the London production was an inspired choice.
Although the productions in Salzburg and London are completely different,
Beczala and Machaidze carried over what they’d built previously.
The London production is Stephen Barlow’s revival of Nicholas
Joel’s production, revived only for the second time since 1994.The sets
are like picture postcards, and the pace of movement staid, almost unnatural.
It’s worrying when the most vivid scenes are choreographed by the Fight
Director, Philip Stafford. Admittedly, Gounod’s treatment of Roméo et
Juliette doesn’t lend itself to intellectual depth, but fortunately
Beczala amd Machaidze injected enthusiasm into the production.
Nino Machaidze as Juliette
Beczala’s Roméo defined the performance. Excellent pitch control,
luscious timbre. A wonderful and deeply expressive “L’ amour, oui,
son ardeur a troublé tout mon être!”. The love duets were beautiful, even
if Beczala overshadowed Machaidze’s Juliette. Still, that’s not
surprising, as he’s just more experienced. With Netrebko he must have
been superb. In the last act, Beczala’s “Salut, tombeau sombre et
silencieux!,” was well modulated, emotionally profound. marred very
slightly when he had to turn backwards, projecting sound awry. I loved
Beczala’s Shepherd in Szymanowski’s Król Roger and enjoyed
hearing him develop over the years. Romantic Heroes are now his forte, but he
has the depth, I think, to eventually tackle Heldentenor territory.
Alfie Boe as Tybalt
Machaidze looks like Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet, which adds piquancy to her portrayal. Her voice is light and agile, the brightness of her timbre expressing Juliette’s youthful innocence, her firm lower register expressing the wilder parts of Juliette’s character. Like many 14 year olds, Juliette does extremes, as Shakespeare observed. Machaidze may not have the polish of many much more famous and experienced singers but she’s convincing
enough. When she sings of waking too soon, holding Tybalt’s bloodstained hand, she sings with such fervour that you realize that this Juliette knows what risks she’s taking. Sweet as she is, Machaidze’s Juliette has a brain.
Good performance standards all round. Darren Jeffrey as Capulet towers
physically over the other players, which is as well, for Gounod develops the
part well. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Frère Laurent was also notable and Stéphane
Degout as Mercutio.
Ketevan Kemoklidze’s Stéphano, Roméo’s Page, makes a delightful
impression in the song about doves and vultures, but artistically the vignette
Alfie Boe as Tybalt received prolonged applause which he acknowledged as if
he were a principal. He has a huge following because he does popular song but
that adulation might be his undoing. Not long ago a fan complained when he was
unwell and couldn’t adequately be replaced. That kind of audience
isn’t into opera as such, but in chasing celebrity.
Piotr Beczala as Roméo and Nino Machaidze as Juliette
Gounod’s choruses are justly celebrated and the Royal Opera House
chorus responded well. Here they were directed to maximum advantage, and as
usual, their performance was well executed.
For more information, please see the Royal Opera House