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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..
07 Oct 2010
Bizet Les Pêcheurs de Perles - Royal Opera House
Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles is notoriously hard to stage. Because the plot’s so grandiose, the imagination works overtime, dwarfing the music, making it seem puny in comparison. There’s a lot to be said in favour of concert performances because they shift the balance back to Bizet.
What was striking in this performance of Les Pêcheurs de Perles (Pearl Fishers) at the Royal Opera House was how delicate much of Bizet’s writing really is. It doesn’t jump up and grab you like the tunes from Carmen. Bizet knew little about India or Indian music but in his imagination, the exoticism signaled refinement. A petit Trianon East, perhaps, charming, but as authentic as 18th century “oriental” wallpaper. Since we nowadays know more of the reality, which affects our response to Bizet’s watercolours.
Dispense with the “orientalism” and think of Les Pêcheurs de Perles as French fantasy, and the opera falls into perspective. Kings and Priests dominate because peasants are superstitious, and think Holy Virgins will protect them. When the chorus sings of Brahma they could as easily be singing of Jesus. Getting away from literal images allows the music to make sense on its own terms.
Antonio Pappano was wise to let this music breathe. Over-expansive gestures are best left to the histrionic narrative. Bizet imagines India in delicate, refined string textures, flute trills and gently beaten cymbals. Crescendi build up like swells in the ocean, diminuendos evoking refinement and submission. Lovely bell-like miniatures throughout evoking an idea of the East as perfumed and flower strewn as a church in France on a holy day. There’s more drama in this music than the opera is given credit for. Pappano elucidates what’s there, without pushing it past its limits. The delicacy of the playing let themes, such as those from the “big number”, resurface elusively throughout the opera, sometimes so subtle they can be overpowered by being made too obvious..
The Royal Opera House orchestra deserve more appreciation than they get, so it was good to see them on stage rather than hidden in the pit. Seeing the bare structure of the stage was instructive, too, a reminder of just how much art goes into making the fantasy of opera.
Leila is a part almost tailor-made for Nicola Cabell. She’s exquisite, and swathed in sapphire satin creates a character even before she sings. Pretty singing too., but the role, despite its charm doesn’t lend itself to great displays of passion. John Osborne’s Nadir was assertive and lucidly clear in the true French manner. His aria “Je crois entendre encore”, was beautifully shaped and balanced, the orchestra poised around it nicely, so it did feel “caché sous les palmiers.”
The duet “Au fond du temple saint” was very well realized by Osborne and Gerald Finley. Finley was by far the biggest name in the ensemble, however good Osborne, Cabell and Raymond Aceto’s Nourabad could be. More darkness would work better with Zurga, who is a very troubled man indeed, but Finley’s singing is so well modulated that he creates authenticity without much apparent effort.