Recently in Performances
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
31 Dec 2010
Pelléas et Mélisande, New York
Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s impressionist drama closely
based on Maeterlinck’s eerie, symbolist play, is not a terribly vocal opera; it calls more for the subtlety of art song style than the belting of great divas and divos.
Therefore it makes me a bit uneasy to report
that the latest Met revival features the best all-around cast the company has
fielded (theatered?) all season, nearly flawless from top to bottom, no one
vocally out of her or his league, everyone suited to the scale of the work and
to singing it at the Met—at least when Simon Rattle is in the pit,
keeping the evening in flawless balance.
Magdalena Kožená as Mélisande, Gerald Finley as Golaud and Willard White as Arkel
Jonathan Miller’s production removes Maeterlinck’s tragedy from
the mystical, pre-Raphaelite mists in which the playwright set it to a definite
location: an English country house in the Merchant-Ivory style. Miller’s
feeling seems to be that we have forgotten the once-upon-a kingdoms of fairy
tale, that we nowadays have similar half-sensual half- memories related to the
forgotten refinements and restraints of the turn of the century world. This
does not always fail of its proper effect, though killing with broadswords
seems a little strange. I do not quite understand why Mélisande, first
discovered in a Jungian wood far from the rest of the action, weeping into a
forest pool, is already within the walls of the house. Surely her tragedy, in
part, is that she begins and remains an outsider? For Miller, evidently,
“Allemond,” the name of Arkel’s kingdom, is truly
all-the-world, and just as there is no place to flee, there is no outside for
Mélisande to have come from.
The singers, an extraordinary ensemble, perform with sensitivity and grace.
Every sound they make is musically grateful and lulls one into the texture of
Debussy’s tone poem. Stéphane Degout’s ardent Pelléas is nicely
contrasted with Gerald Finley’s agonized and menacing Golaud. Willard
White and Felicity Palmer give moving performances as the helpless elders Arkel
and Geneviève. Neel Ram Narajan’s boy soprano reaches all the notes with
perfect support and has no trouble filling the house. He is often called upon
to “witness” the actions of the incomprehensible adults, and he
acts bravely. (In one clever Miller touch, Yniold’s scene with the
Shepherd becomes a nightmare, sing in bed.)
Magdalena Koženà as Mélisande and Stéphane Degout as Pelléas
The one member of the cast who did not seem quite acclimatized with the
rest, perhaps appropriately, was Lady Rattle, Magdalena Koženà, who sang
Mélisande, that quintessential outsider. It was easy to put her accented French
down to the character’s foreignness; this did not bother me at all. More
awkward was her air of conscious coquetry, of flirting with Pélleas, of
manipulating those about her. This is not appropriate to Mélisande
whose innocence is precisely the keynote of her character. Koženà stares,
as required, at the actions of others, but her stare does not seem to imply
wonder or puzzle; simply a languid lack of interest. Innocence is a commodity
that Maeterlinck’s admirers longed for, missing their pre-Freudian,
pre-Darwinian youth perhaps; if we can no longer believe in it, we still must
have a Mélisande who incarnates it to perform the opera properly.
The hero of the evening, shining despite the brilliance of so extraordinary
a group of singers, was conductor Sir Simon Rattle in his Met debut. His
Pelléas et Mélisande was of so measured a pace that the moments of
rising tension, imminent violence, came upon us with an almost shocking
suddenness and, as the stage action remained calm, tied us more closely to the
internal states that the score tends to paint in any case. His sureness and
lightness of touch permitted the singers to project conversationally without
any strain or push. He brought us to our feet.