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Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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?
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.