Recently in Performances
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?
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.