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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..
31 Dec 2010
Adriana Lecouvreur at Teatro Regio Torino 2009
The Royal Opera at Covent Garden just made something of a splash in international opera news with a star-encrusted revival of an opera once quite popular and yet in recent years — Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur.
With multiple set pieces for its three leads, all gloriously melodic, and an unashamedly melodramatic tale mixing aristocratic intrigue and backstage theatrics, many might wonder why this almost proto-typical Italian opera relinquished its once-proud place in the repertory. For anyone too impatient to await the inevitable DVD release of the Covent Garden production (with Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, and Olga Borodina), there is a 2009 staging from Turin with a capable cast available. Unfortunately, this Turin production mostly serves to make one understand the opera’s relative neglect in recent decades.
Director Lorenzo Mariani goes for a gambit increasingly popular — a spare physical production almost “regie”-like in its setting of the scene through a handful of props in an open space, while stamping through this somewhat abstract environment are characters in completely traditional costume, and quite opulent ones at that. This gambit allows the director to please the more conservative opera-goer (those most likely to be attracted to this opera) and yet allows for swift scene changes and at least provides a nominal acknowledgment of contemporary opera design. The gambit doesn’t do much to make the convoluted plot mechanics of Arturo Colautti and Ernest Legouvé’s libretto any more believable. Somehow court protocol requires Maurizio to dissemble affection for a married Princess, while carrying on a secret love affair with the actress Adriana Lecouvreur. Since Maurizio does not entrust Adriana with this information, so when she learns the truth she and the Princess curse each other in mutual rage. The aristocrat has more to lose and the power to avoid detection in seeking revenge, which leads to a protracted death scene for Adriana, after sniffing a poisoned bouquet of flowers. Supposedly the original source material of Eugène Scribe’s play had a historical precedent, but even if the details are correct (extremely unlikely), as staged, the opera’s action veers from the dull to the ridiculous.
So what a successful production needs is star-power — glamorous voices in appealing form who can let the music rip and help an audience forget the nonsense on stage. Perhaps that is what happened at the above-referenced Covent Garden run. But not in Turin. Marcelo Álvarez’s lyric instrument finds the role of Maurizio more suitable than some of the heavier ones he has taken on in recent years. His breath control and consistency of production cannot be seriously faulted. He simply has little imagination, either as singer or actor, so the music lacks that spark of life that might help a viewer believe momentarily an actual character is on stage, and not an over-costumed singer. The tenor has more to offer than his female co-leads, however. In the title role Micaela Carosi brings volume and an unwieldy vibrato, so any flicker of pathos in her character never flames into life. Although well-equipped with a solid mezzo voice, Marianne Cornetti is not favored by her costume, and she never makes a creditable rival for Lecouvreur. The best performance comes from Alfonso Antoniozzi as Michonnet, director of the theater where Lecouvreur acts. He doesn’t have much to do, but he manages to convince us, while he is on stage, that Lecouvreur is someone we should care about.
Cilea’s score veers from the heights of melodiousness to the depths of murky, protracted scene-setting. In the opening scene of backstage chaos, TV director Matteo Ricchetti indulges in frantic quick edits that are more annoying than effective. Thankfully he settles down after that scene into acceptable competence. Conductor Renato Palumbo elicits some silky sounds from the house forces. The Blu-Ray picture only makes its distinctive clarity felt in scanning the stitching of the costumes; the sets don’t offer much to look at.
Particular fans of these singers or this opera need not be dissuaded. Patience may well be rewarded for others curious about this opera when/if the Covent Garden production appears on the shelves.