Recently in Performances
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.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
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.
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.