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?
29 Nov 2010
Le nozze di Figaro, Opera Australia
Neil Armfield’s insightful staging of Le nozze di Figaro is making a welcome return in the lead-up to his direction of the Ring Cycle for the Wagner bi-centenary 2013 (the first complete cycle staged in Melbourne in a century).
Armfield’s view of late eighteenth century life in Spain is a dark
one. The Almaviva household is held in the same disdain as the then monarch
Carlos IV and his dysfunctional family. Goya inspires Dale Ferguson’s
costumes; Countess Almaviva in particular, in oyster satin (and thanks to
Rachelle Durkin’s supermodel physique and bearing) has the devastating
allure of Goya’s beloved Duchess of Alba. Goya even makes an appearance
in act three to ‘photograph’ Figaro’s nuptials and, just as
he did in his portrait of the Royal Family, captures a household in sexual,
social and political turmoil.
Fergusson’s sets feature deliberate anachronisms that, to my eyes,
show the contemptible attitude of the Almaviva’s to their staff. A
shabby, vinyl reclining armchair dominates act one for Cherubino then the Count
to hide behind or in. It’s the sort of out-of-date furniture that would
normally be dumped but here is given to the servants to furnish their quarters.
For the wedding celebrations the Count provides a battered tea urn and
I prefer a deeper voiced Figaro contrasting the lighter voiced Count as
here. With that gruff edge to his voice Teddy Tahu Rhodes exemplifies the
peasant against the more refined voice of Peter Coleman-Wright’s
aristocrat. In “Se vuol ballare” he embellishes the repeated theme.
The result is a little ungainly but in terms of characterisation the growl
works splendidly. Even better in “Non più andrai” he directs the
second verse to the Count, seated smugly in the recliner chair, and, towering
over the trembling Count, warns him his days of philandering are over too and
reminding us how revolutionary this opera (and the play it derives from) was
feared to be. Armfield fills the opera with insights like these and the
principal singers — especially Coleman-Wright, Rhodes, Durkin and Tiffany
Speight — integrate them into their performances with easy assurance.
Tall and sleek Durkin’s arms glide naturally into gestures both
graceful and, at appropriate times, erotic. When, in act two, the Count tries
to force her away from the door to force open the closet where Cherubino hides,
he at first violently lays his gloved hands on her only to let them roam over
her breasts and body making the sexual connection still existing between the
two — despite their current marital problems — alarmingly obvious.
Durkin’s response to this rare moment of contact with her faithless
husband, melting at his touch, is simultaneously elegant and erotic. Erotic
obsession is the basis of this opera after all and this insight into that
eroticism created a frisson. The Countess’s attraction to Cherubino was
insightfully played up too; the Countess wilting to his act two serenade like
Gomez used to when Morticia spoke French.
Speight’s voice grows in size and stature with each appearance.
Speight also has charming way with and special claim on Mozartian maids. Sian
Pendry bravely displays the rampaging teenage sexuality of Cherubino behaving
at times like a spaniel in heat! She neatly negotiates the rapid pace set for
“Non so piu” beautifully enunciating the words as do he rest of the
The secondary characters weave through the story with only occasional
success. Elizabeth Campbell’s Marcellina is another character caught in a
precarious situation. Her frustrations run deeper than mere anxiety over her
age. Her favour with Count Almaviva, depends on her winning her case against
Figaro. In Campbell’s hands there is that sense Marcellina is greatly
relieved when she finds Figaro is her son and she can escape to bourgeoisie
security as Bartolo’s wife. When Armfield’s production was first
staged Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s arias were cut. They were
restored for the revival in Sydney, although Marcellina’s is excised for
this Melbourne season. The tenor Robert Tear specialises in singing Basilio and
devotes an entire essay to him in his book Singer Beware offering an
illuminating analysis into “the quality of thought which might invest a
small part with a fresh interest and, at the same time, probably alter the
usual balance of the opera. “If the aria, is cut,” he writes,
“the character becomes extremely hard to play simply because the chance
of explaining his character to the audience is taken away, all the earlier
behaviour seeming merely eccentric or stupid.” Basilio is a man of great
intelligence, according to Tear, “more intelligent than anyone else in
the Almaviva household” the seemingly bizarre aria “In quelli anni
cui dal poco” is making a point about this
“musician/thinker’s position in a philistine aristocratic house of
the period.” While the near-revolutionary sentiments of Figaro’s
are extrovertly apparent in Armfield’s clever twist in “Non più
andrai”, there could have been similar possibilities with Basilio’s
aria explaining his philosophy and how it helped him survive the
“fooleries of class and politics” surrounding him. Conductor Marko
Letonja actually highlights the ascending horn passages at the end of
Balisio’s aria so they ring out with a confidence worthy of Beethoven and
suggest maybe the triumphant Basilio is another plebeian hero. Kanen Breen
plays Basilio primarily for laughs and by the time the aria arrives the
character has become a rococo incarnation of Kenneth Williams. It’s an
assured performance however; the character slithers around with decreasing fear
of his betters.
There is a touch of early music practice from the orchestra; fortepiano
replacing the usual harpsichord and the strings adopting that occasionally
‘wiry’ sound associated with early music practice. Acts one and two
work the best in this current revival, the sexual and social strain made
delightfully relevant by director and cast.