11 Dec 2010
Magic Flute, Phoenix
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Schikaneder had known each other for some time before they wrote The Magic Flute.
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?
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Schikaneder had known each other for some time before they wrote The Magic Flute.
In 1791 Schikaneder, who was a fine actor and a capable singer, wanted a theater piece from Mozart because he thought the name of the well-known composer would attract a large audience to his Theater auf der Wieden. Since he needed a piece that would have a broad appeal, he asked for a singspiel. That format, which has spoken dialogue between the sung numbers, was then an extremely popular form of entertainment.
Schikaneder’s sources for the opera’s libretto included a book of imaginative pseudo-oriental fairy tales which were published by Jakob August Liebeskind in 1786 under the title Dschinnistan. In it, a story called “Lulu, oder der Zauberflöte” (“Lulu, or the Magic Flute”) gave the librettist some good material. He drew on other sources as well and he used Masonic symbolism. Mozart was a member of the Masonic Lodge in Vienna. Schikaneder applied for membership in his native Regensburg and was turned down, but he probably succeeded in becoming a member in Vienna. Both wanted to interest lodge members in coming to the theater.
More than two hundred years later we don’t know a great deal of what went on at rehearsals, but this has come down to us. Bass singer Sebastian Meyer is quoted as saying that Mozart originally wrote the duet where Papageno and Papagena first see each other quite differently from the way in which we now hear it. Originally they were to cry out “Papageno!” and “Papagena!” a few times at the beginning. Schikaneder told Mozart that the music must express greater astonishment. He said that at first they should stare dumbly at each other, then Papageno should begin to stammer ‘Pa-papapa-pa-pa’. Papagena must repeat that until both of them finally get the whole name out. Mozart followed the advice, and in this form the duet had to be encored at numerous performances.
On Friday evening 3 December Phoenix Opera presented Die Zauberflöte in a version which featured arias sung in German and dialogue spoken in English. The wonderfully imaginative original production was by David J Castellano. The stage director overseeing the Phoenix performances was Carroll Freeman and he told the story effectively. Boyd Ostroff’s set, built for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, was positively enchanting. The costumes by A. T. Jones and Son were attractive, functional and fit the wearers well. Conductor and Choral Director John Massaro drew fine playing from his orchestra and kept the chorus singing the exquisite harmonies accurately. Lisa Starry, together with the Scorpius and Cannedy Dance Companies provided spirited dances that enhanced the story.
As Tamino, tenor Vale Rideout sang with a rich sound that soared over the orchestra. He is a good actor, too, and he energized his text with conviction. The real star of the evening, however, was the Papageno, Kevin Burdette. He has a large powerful voice with a burnished robust sound and excellent German. His bright, vibrant personality pervaded the entire theater, especially when he entered from behind the audience. His interpretation gave us an idea of what Schikaneder’s performances must have been like.
Jennifer Nagy was a secure Pamina who sang with lovely bell-like tones. The most difficult role to cast in this opera is that of the Queen of the Night. Unfortunately, local voice teacher Anna-Lisa Hackett had problems with both of her admittedly difficult coloratura arias. It’s not easy to find a good bass for Sarastro, either, but Zdenek Plech proved to be thoroughly capable. He had a fine tone, secure technique and he seemed to have no trouble at all producing the lowest notes. He should have a good career ahead of him. As the Speaker, Earl Hazell sang with dark tonal colors that rang true. His wife, Alexis Davis Hazell was an amusing Third Lady who sang the bottom line with passion. As the other two ladies, Julie Davis and Erin Tompkins blended their close harmonies beautifully and played their parts with visual piquancy.
Gabriel Gargari was a humorous Monastatos who was often surrounded by his energetic slaves, portrayed with gusto by Ryan Glover, Dennis Tamblin and Aubrey Allicock. Allicock doubled as one of the Armed Men along with Francisco Renteria. Both sang with handsome sounds, as did the Priests, Guillermo Ontiveros and Christopher Herrera. Lisanne Norman Brooks was a cute and bouncy Papagena with a charming lyric voice. As the Three Spirits, Kristin Jensen, Dana Brooks Atwood and Kerry Ginger showed a flair for comedy as they sang with rich, agile voices. Although it was not a perfect performance, it was nice to see a local group put on this great masterpiece.