Recently in Performances
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
19 Jan 2011
James Gilchrist, Wigmore Hall
Arms swinging loosely at his side, a relaxed smile and bright eyes conveying
his confident ease, James Gilchrist’s young wanderer bounded nimbly onto
the stage at the Wigmore Hall, radiating and embodying the fresh
optimism of spring, at the start of this technically assured and dramatically
coherent performance of Schubert’s song cycle, Die schöne
But such sanguinity was almost immediately disturbed and ultimately
dispelled. Although never melodramatic (there was little of the painfully
intense brooding and wrought self-examination of Bostridge, Padmore or Scholl),
Gilchrist and his accompanist, Anna Tilbrook, shaped the narrative effectively,
subtly pointing the changes of mood: thus, shifts from hope to despair, from
introspection to anger, seemed inevitable, never exaggerated, as the psychology
of the drama unfolded in a controlled, naturalistic manner. The naïve
enthusiasm of the opening gave way to a resigned weariness and deeply
expressive poignancy at the close of the cycle; the sustained and penetrating
stillness and quietude which following the final cadence, revealed that the
audience, almost unconsciously swept along on the journey which began so
hopefully, truly shared the protagonist’s surprise at his ultimate
failure and disappointment.
Gilchrist’s light tenor and distinct diction (all well-shaped vowels
and crisp consonants but never mannered) perfectly conveyed the ebullient mood
of ‘Das Wandern’ (‘Journeying’). Assertive, dynamic
playing by Anna Tilbrook conjured a lively brook, the precise and springy
rhythms aptly conjuring the bubbling, restless water. Throughout Tilbrook took
an active role in the narrative: the regularity and clarity of the whirling
cycles of the mill in ‘Halt!’ and ‘Am Feierabend’
(‘When the work is done’), suggested both the literal power of the
mechanism and the figurative fixedness of the forces that the young wanderer
must face. Indeed, despite the happy ambience of the opening song, one might
have intimated a subtle but insistent menace in the incisiveness of the
brook’s tireless energy, which here positively supports the
wanderer’s song but which later becomes an insistent tremor — the
‘murmuring friend’ in ‘Danksagung an den Bach’
(‘Thanksgiving to the brook’) — and finally a threatening
‘roar’ (in ‘Mein’) which haunts, undermines and
Despite possessing a naturally light-grained voice, Gilchrist subtly used
tone and colour to indicate the wanderer’s psychological journeying and
wavering. Thus, the light headiness of ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where
to?’) expressed his excited anticipation, while in ‘Halt’
Gilchrist adopted a more resonant timbre upon arriving at the mill. Similarly,
the subdued, introspective questioning of ‘Der Neugierige’
(‘The inquisitive one’) — “tell me, brooklet, does she
love me?” — gave way first to an sudden, excited outburst when he
is sure of the mill girl’s love — “the maid of the mill I
love is mein!”; the persistence of the repeated phrase hinted at the
young man’s growing self-delusion. Replaced by a harder, more urgent tone
in ‘Tränenregen’ (‘Rain of tears’), the vocal colours
modulated into bitterness in ‘Die böse Farbe’ (‘The hateful
colour’) . Confident and comfortable across all registers, Gilchrist was
particularly controlled at the height of his tessitura, in the superbly
sustained arcs of ‘Danksagung an den Bach’ and in the more angry
protestations of ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The Hunter’).
Rhythm and pace were handled with similar expertise; slight rallentandi at
the close of songs permitted a fluent progression to the next, effectively
sustaining the narrative momentum. Pauses were meticulously judged — as
in ‘Der Neugierige’, where expressive dissonances and inconclusive
melodic lines were skilfully crafted to convey impending meditative melancholy:
“one little word is ‘yes’,/ the other is ‘no’/ by
these two little words/my whole world is bounded.” In the penultimate
song, ‘Der Müller und die Bach’ (‘The miller and the
brook’), Gilchrist’s almost imperceptible hesitations suggested
that the wanderer was lost in his own disillusion; detached from reality, he
now dwells in imaginary realms and suicide is the only possible closure.
Tilbrook subtly pointed the oscillations between major and minor modes
— the transition to the darker minor at the conclusion of
‘Mein!’ was stunningly affective — so that they served as an
aural metaphor for the ironic contrast between the verdant beauty and freshness
of the surrounding countryside and the wanderer’s growing disappointment
as he recognises the falsity of the land’s promise.
Gilchrist’s musical intelligence is considerable, and this was a
thoughtfully conceived and uniformly captivating whole. The paired songs,
‘Die liebe Farbe’ and ‘Die böse Farbe’, in which the
rich greenery is first a ‘beloved’ and then a ‘hateful’
colour, were an emotional and expressive highpoint; astonishingly, while the
voice almost disappeared in a pianissimo whisper, the words and their
sentiment were presented with deep impact. But it was the touching simplicity
of the final three songs which was most remarkable — and surprising,
after the emotional troughs and peaks of the preceding songs. The pale,
gentleness of the voice, defenceless against steady presence of the brook was
extraordinary poignant: the significance of Tilbrook’s initial
assertiveness was now apparent, the brook’s indifference to the
wanderer’s deathly lullaby revealed.
Gilchrist and Tilbrook released a highly acclaimed recording of Die
schöne Müllerin in 2009 on the Orchid label. That this audience was deeply
affected by this live rendering of the wanderer’s tale, was attested by
the long, resonant silence which followed the final cadence.