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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
29 Oct 2010
Wagner: Wesendonck-Lieder, Preludes and Overtures
A great vintage Mercury album of Antal Dorati conducting Wagner overtures and preludes featured as a cover a close-up of a medieval chalice, undoubtedly meant to reference the Parsifal excerpt on the enclosed disc.
Cover art design in those days was an integral part of excitement and appeal of purchasing classical music recordings. No more. Orchestras make exponentially fewer recordings than they once did, and when one is produced, the cover is likely to be similar to the one Deutsche Grammophon provides for a recent CD of Franz-Welser Möst conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in Wagner preludes and overtures, with Marsha Brueggersoman as soloist in the Wesendock-Lieder. The cover photograph has the boyish conductor holding aloft the smiling singer’s hand before standing members of the orchestra. This is also Deutsche Grammophon’s only clear cover notice that the performance was recorded live. Unfortunately, the perfunctory nature of the packaging is all too indicative of the musical performance within.
Welser-Möst’s conducting tends to veer from abrupt interventionism (highlighting an odd orchestral detail or opting for an unexpected tempo adjustment) to passages of skilled but staid professionalism. The disc opens with the Rienzi overture. The clear, crisp recorded sound allows the listener to share in Welser-Möst’s sudden interest in this wind figure here, or the string accompaniment there. Ultimately, the key to a great performance of this overture should be the ability for the nobility of the main tune to sweep away the listener into vaguely tragic-heroic reveries. That quality Welser-Möst cannot produce.
The Tristan und Isolde selections lack sensuality, and though the Lohengrin preludes are immaculately performed, they are cold in effect. Even the closing Ride of the Valkyries evokes technical admiration without getting the blood racing.
Vocal enthusiasts may opt for the disc solely for the roughly 20 minutes of Marsha Brueggergosman’s elegant performance of the Wesendonck-Lieder. Her tone is rich but never hooty, and she has complete security throughout her range.
An original and imaginative cover couldn’t make the overall impact of this CD any greater. Those with deep collections might break out their Wagner overture and prelude sets conducted by Dorati, or Tennstedt, or Klemperer, or...