23 Nov 2010
Tosca, Manitoba Opera
What some people won’t do for a standing ovation! Saturday night at the opera was a showcase of excesses.
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?
What some people won’t do for a standing ovation! Saturday night at the opera was a showcase of excesses.
Puccini’s Tosca has everything: passionate love, consuming jealousy, undisguised lust, evil deceit, even murder and suicide. Manitoba Opera’s (MO) mostly Canadian cast rose to the occasion, leaving the audience emotionally spent but invigorated.
Conductor Tyrone Paterson led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra from the pit in Puccini’s marvellously dramatic score that foreshadows much of the onstage action. Vigorous playing and superb solo section work throughout provided exactly the added finesse required, making this a first-rate performance.
Veteran director Val Kuinka worked her magic with the help of an exemplary cast. Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Richard Margison as artist Cavaradossi outdid themselves, portraying the tragic figures with realism and relish. Margison hasn’t lost a step as his extensive career continues. With a tenor voice that’s easy to listen to, he floated effortlessly to his upper range in “Recondita armonia.”
His wistful rendition of the celebrated aria “E lucevan le stelle” in the final act almost broke our hearts, his powerful voice aching with love for his adored Tosca. Totally convincing and touching, Margison crafted this into a real tearjerker and the clarinet solo introducing it was splendidly sensitive, enhancing our anticipation of this favourite.
Talk about art imitating life! Nielsen was outstanding as Tosca — a great actress, putting her entire being into the demanding role of the opera singer title character. With her lovely, refined soprano, she lent her full vibrato and flexible style to the twists and turns of the plot, moving fluidly from jealous lover to desperate murderess. In “Non la sospiri, la nostra casetta,” she showed a diaphanous lightness to her voice, barely alighting on each note before flitting to the next.
Rich phrasing and fervent zeal highlighted her “Visse d’arte, vissi d’amore,” as she sang, collapsed on the floor, disconsolate and despairing, beseeching God for deserting her despite her lifelong piety and humanity. Nielsen is the consummate opera star, with a reliable, mature voice that is completely satisfying. Powerful beyond belief, her dramatic cries of pain reached right into the audience’s hearts.
Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Richard Margison as Cavaradossi [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
Baritone Gaétan Laperrière returned to MO in the role of villainous chief of police Baron Scarpia. Dressed to the nines in black with gold braiding and trim, he looked every inch a self-indulgent scoundrel bent on getting his way. Yet Laperrière’s first entry was soft - barely discernible. His “Va Tosca!” was overly subtle, lacking power. And while his voice had agreeable resonance and flow, one wanted him to boom a little more, and strike fear into our hearts. Laperrière’s actions and words were suitably despicable, but his delivery belied his villainy. Frequent wooden movements were also questionable.
Peter Strummer’s droll Sacristan, on the other hand, was completely endearing. Announcing his arrival onstage with several healthy sneezes, he was a natural in this comic role. His bass-baritone made “E sempre lava!” a breath of fresh air before the drama to come. He has his gestures down to an art and gave us the only laughs of the evening.
Supporting roles by David Watson (Angelotti/Sciarrone), Keith Klassen (Spoletto) and Howard Rempel (jailer) were all solid and credible and Carson Milberg was a sweet-voice shepherd boy offstage. Acoustics can be tricky with offstage singing and it may be wise to station Milberg closer to the curtain to ensure the audience can fully appreciate this musical lad’s talents.
Wendy Nielsen as Tosca and Gaétan Laperrière as Scarpia [Photo by R. Tinker courtesy of Manitoba Opera]
The chorus is not especially busy in Tosca but certainly came through well when called upon and costuming was truly impressive.
The three sets were amazingly ornate and detailed, transporting us easily to 19th century Rome, and but for some shaky spotlighting, Bill Williams lighting was mood-setting splendour.