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?
01 Nov 2010
Cervantino stages rare Graun opera — The Mexican national opera?
Clearly, there isn’t one. Yet, Carl Heinrich Graun’s 1755
rarely-performed Montezuma is of special importance in a country
celebrating 200 years of Independence from Spanish rule and 100 years since the
Revolution that ultimately toppled dictator Porfirio Díaz.
was thus an obvious choice as the operatic centerpiece of the 2010
International Cervantino Festival, staged in Guanajuato, a major station on the
march to Mexican freedom that began in 1810.
Although he was his contemporary, Graun was no Handel, and thus
Montezuma, even when performed with the dedication obvious in the
production seen in the historic Teatro Juárez on October 14, is more
conversation piece than masterwork. The libretto by Graun’s employer,
Prussia’s music-loving, flute-playing Frederick the Great, was performed
in Guanajuato in Italian translation.
Christophe Carré countertenor as Panfilo de Narvaes
The somewhat simplistic plot reflects Frederick’s desire to be seen as
an apostle of the Enlightenment — despite his own absolute power.
Montezuma is an embodiment of the monarch’s philosophical
leaning vis-à-vis the Noble Savage. (Recall that this is also the age of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with Voltaire being in residence at Frederick’s
Mexico’s opera Wunderkind Claudio Valdés Kuri brought all the
excesses of Regietheater to the minimalist staging, trying too hard to
make more of Montezuma than is really there. Intent of fitting the
work into the theme of the season, Kuri employed all the techniques of
Brechtian alienation to combine in the production a picture of Mexico’s
inhuman suffering with a vision of hope for the future. Thus in the title role
countertenor Flavio Oliver frequently swapped Aztec loin cloth with T-shirt,
and in Act III Kuri changed the entire 26-member Elyma Ensemble, an able but
undistinguished early-music group, into “civvies” and moved them
onto the stage. This act concluded not with Graun’s original score, but
with a dramatic scene by Mexican Baroque composer Manuel de Sumaya. As
Montezuma died, half the stage was wrapped in a modern Mexican flag. The
substituted finale seemed to suggest an eventual and successful synthesis of
cultures. Yet one wondered— to cite only one from many examples—
whether Cortés on-stage rape of heroic Montezuma did not detract from the
figurative rape of ancient Mexico that is the true subject of the Graun’s
Oliver, by far the finest voice— and actor— in the cast, was a
virile Montezuma in the minimalist staging, designed by Herman Sorgeloos. As
conqueror Cortés Adrian’s George Popescu, an equally able countertenor,
was the embodiment of the Absolute Evil that brought about the end of Aztec
As Montezuma’s mate, soprano Lourdes Ambriz grew in stature as she
suffered ever-greater abuse throughout the performance. She made her lament in
Act III a memorable moment in an otherwise often tedious evening of opera.
Without distorting the figure, Kuri took advantage of Ambriz’ talent to
bring a hint of feminist thought to the production. Gratefully, Kuri trimmed
his staging to three hours from the original four. It was also to Kuri’s
credit that he corrected Frederick’s idealist picture of Montezuma with
an opening scene that showed that his hands too were soiled with the blood of
A co-commission Germany’s Theater der Welt and the Edinburgh Festival
(it was staged by both earlier this year), the Cervantino, Madrid’s
Teatro, where it recently played. It is yet to be seen in Mexico City.