Recently in Performances
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?
‘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.
03 Dec 2010
Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lyric Opera of Chicago
In a seamless realization with an ideal cast Lyric Opera of Chicago celebrates the magical antics and foibles of both human and fairy in its premiere production of Benjamin Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.
From the first sounds of the string introduction to the final leap
of Puck into a stage gone dark not a moment of Britten’s score is
neglected in a well-thought match of music and drama. Leading the realm of
fairies as King and Queen David Daniels sings the role of Oberon and Anna
Christy that of Tytania. The mortal lovers who interact with the figures of the
other world and play out their own sets of problems are performed by Elizabeth
DeShong and Shawn Mathey as Hermia and Lysander, and by Erin Wall and Lucas
Meachem as Helena and Demetrius. The amateur group of actors, led by the Bottom
of Peter Rose, works well as an ensemble in this production and gives yet a
third dimension to the strivings and complications of the personalities
enmeshed in supernatural and human squabbles. In a significant debut at Lyric
Opera, Rory Macdonald conducts the score as a moving canvas with the varying
elements coalescing into a unified whole.
Elizabeth DeShong as Hermia and Shawn Mathey as Lysander
In this production, where successive locales and scenes in the forest drift
from one to another, the first two acts are performed as a continuum without
intermission. Once the orchestral introduction begins, the wavering string
themes are paired by an undulating sash hanging across the stage bathed in an
aqua light. The sash will also move vertically during individual scenes to
envelop and to reveal characters and their entanglements. Around the sides of
the stage cloth panels in shades of woodland green are occasionally
illuminated, so that the fairies’ movements are witnessed as if through
an arbor. At the opening those fairies, performed by the Anima-Young Singers of
Greater Chicago, welcome Robin Goodfellow, or Puck. This speaking role, played
throughout the production with great physical and thespian agility by Esteban
Andres Cruz, leads now into the arrival of Oberon and Tytania. As both give
vent to their disagreement over supervision of an Indian boy, the vocal
embellishments so effectively employed by Ms. Christy and Mr. Daniels mirror
their growing agitation. The words “Spring” and
“Summer” receive such decoration followed by Ms. Christy’s
downward runs on the word “mortal,” when she describes the Indian
boy’s heritage. Mr. Daniels sings the countertenor part of Oberon with
graceful ease, especially impressive and secure as he moves toward middle and
low notes and layers these with dramatic import. Once the Queen departs, Oberon
negotiates with Puck on finding an herb with magical properties to be used
against Tytania. The suspended basket in which Oberon has delivered his royal
instruction moves upward, so that the empty stage can welcome the mortals
Lucas Meachem as Demetrius and Erin Wall as Helena
In their roles as the young lovers the two pairs appear — as distinct
from the otherworldly characters in the forest — in casual dress
reminiscent of the 1950s. Both pairs are distraught on varying grounds.
Lysander and Hermia form a vocal unity against the court which stands in
opposition to their love. In this, Ms. DeShong and Mr. Mathey express their
affection with pathos and sincerity in the duet with repeated “I swear to
thee.” Their plans are, at first, as neatly arranged as this vocal
harmony. This initial set of lovers gives way to Demetrius and Helena,
Demetrius in pursuit of Hermia yet himself being pursued by Helena. Once Oberon
witnesses the agitated relationship of the second pair, he resolves to
intercede and cause Demetrius to return the love of Helena by having Puck drop
essence of the magic herb in the man’s eye. In his aria “Welcome
Wanderer” Mr. Daniels sings lush, varying scales on
“eglantine” when describing to Puck both the plan for Demetrius and
his intentions for Tytania. After an interlude in which the rustic players
march through the forest and announce their forthcoming comedy of Pyramus
and Thisbe both pairs of lovers return. At first Lysander and Hermia
exchange emotional vows, Mr Mathey communicating his devotion with touchingly
expressive high notes. Puck distributes the herb to the wrong man, so that
Lysander transfers his affections to Helena who immediately takes flight. Once
the stage is again cleared of the lovers, Tytania enters accompanied by her
fairies, whom Ms. Christy addresses with ardorous melismas sung on
“quaint spirits.” As she falls asleep the fairy youth assigned to
guard her and the Indian boy also succumbs to slumber. Puck is able to take
away the boy and Oberon applies the magic herb to the Queen.
Highlights of confusion in the next part, corresponding to the second act,
include the further rehearsals of the actors and the quarrels of the perplexed
and divided lovers. When the rustics confront Bottom who has been turned into
an ass by the amused Puck, they scatter in fear. Both groups of lovers re-enter
and argue fiercely, the men exchanging fists and the women likewise hurling
insults at each other. Here Ms. Wall as Helena stands out as she sings of past
“friendship warbling of one song,” while decorating her words to
mimic a warble. In the meantime Tytania has fallen in love with Bottom thanks
to the machinations of Oberon and Puck with the magical herb. The Queen and her
companion sleep in her bower beneath the undulating sash as the lovers enhaust
themselves in quarrel and disappear. Oberon now scolds Puck for having
administered the herb to the wrong lover, in this production the punishment
emanating from the King’s hands as he matches movement to music. Puck is
charged with recalling the lovers individually and with releasing Lysander by a
further dose of the herb. As the act closes, the lovers all sleep and Tytania
remains enamored of Bottom in her dream.
Anna Christy as Tytania and Peter Rose as Bottom
The final act in its two scenes sets the fairy rulers and the earthly lovers
once again “in amity.” As a means of celebrating by public event
the rustics ultimately perform their play before the royalty of Athens and
weddings ensue. In the first scene Tytania awakes and recounts what she
presumes to have been a dream. When Oberon directs her gaze to the sleeping
Bottom, she reacts in astonishment but is then reconciled to her King. As she
follows Oberon’s suggestion and declares “Music, ho…”
in order to foster sleep among the mortals, Ms. Christy’s voice gleams in
decorative gesture just as Bottom is again restored to human form. Once the
lovers awake, Demetrius is able to declare that he has “found fair Helena
like a jewel,” hence preparing for an amicable resolution among the four.
Mr. Meachem’s pronouncement is signaled by imbuing his voice with a warm,
lyrical tone as he sings together with the others in a harmonious round. Both
pairs are forgiven by the royal couple Theseus and Hippolyta as they prepare to
watch, in the final scene, the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe
enacted by the rustic players. Members of the Ryan Opera Center together with
Mr. Rose present a believably bumbling rendition of the play in costumes
matched to the parts they inhabit. All now married retire to sleep, as Puck
delivers the final words of apology, that “Robin shall restore
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