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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?
‘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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
10 Oct 2010
Rossini’s Otello at Rossini in Wildbad Festival, 2008
As good a performance of Rossini’s opera as this disc provides, for some equal entertainment value may potentially arise from the booklet essay by one Bernd-Rüdiger Kern (as translated into English by David Stevens).
In explaining the relative obscurity of Rossini’s version of Shakespeare Moorish tragedy, Kern contradicts himself more than once, often within a couple lines: “It is still performed widely in the opera-houses of today” is soon followed by “Revivals of Otello in the modern era, the first of which took place as late as 1954, have not been so numerous as might have been expected.”
Exactly whose expectations that may be, other than the writer’s, remains unclear. Even if one proposed the tragic loss of Verdi and Boito’s masterpiece from the canon, Rossini and librettist Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa’s version would probably be no more frequently staged today than, say, Zelmira or Semiramide (even Kern admits that in the years just before Verdi's Otello, Rossini’s version had already become a rarity). The style and tropes of Rossini’s “serious” operas simply haven’t aged well, and whereas patches of indifferent music don’t really hurt the comedies much, the lack of dramatic tension in the serious operas can make for some sad musical longueurs.
The problem in the first two acts in particular is that the rigorous demands of opera construction at the time mean that the story advances oh so slowly, as each character is introduced and has his or her own number. By act three, however, Rossini is at his best, and the loveliness of Desdemona’s final scene really does rival that of Verdi’s. Jessica Pratt takes this role and exhibits a warm, sweet voice of real quality. Among a large group of high-lying tenors, Michael Spyres in the title role stands out with a richer, more baritonal quality. His scenes with Jago, another tenor, don’t have the fierceness of those between Verdi's Otello and Iago, however. There is no Cassio in this fairly different telling of the story; Rodrigo has a significant part, and Filippo Adami — yes, another tenor — has a pointed, tart voice perfect for the role.
This is a live recording, from the 2008 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Don’t worry about the defects of many live recordings — stage noise is minimal, and voices are well-captured in a natural mix with the orchestra. Antonino Fogliani leads the Virtuosi Brunensis forces, and they produce a warm, propulsive account, although not always with perfect intonation.
Intrepid shoppers may be able to find the studio version of this opera from a couple decades back, with Jose Carreras. For anyone else interested in this rarity, this version should suffice. The cast may not be familiar, but they are fresh and dedicated to their roles. And then there’s the Naxos price. No libretto is included; the essay joins a detailed synopsis and artist biographies, in English and German.