Recently in Performances
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
16 Jan 2011
The Art of the Countertenor
Since he first came to notice a few years ago — in Messiah in this very hall, as Creonte at Covent Garden, and as Arsace in Partenope at New York City Opera, to name by a few recently acclaimed performances — many a starry accolade has been heaped upon young Welsh countertenor, Iestyn Davies: “achingly beautiful tone”,“unforgettable focus and poignancy” and “compelling sense of rhetoric” are typical of the bountiful superlatives.
This recital of gems
from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries undoubtedly confirmed why Davies
deserves such acclamations. Moreover, a concert of two distinct halves, it
demonstrated the extraordinary range of his technical accomplishments, musical
insights and dramatic embodiments. Unaffected and assured, he does not seek to
impose himself upon the music; rather, his easeful stage presence and innate
appreciation of the requirements of each particular musical medium allows the
music itself to rise to the fore. The voice never distracts; it is only at the
final cadence that one realises how supremely the song has been served.
We began in the seventeenth century with an exquisitely compiled and
meticulously researched programme. Not only were the names unfamiliar but works
were chosen to demonstrate idiosyncratic, and often unusual, qualities.
Benedetto Ferrari’s triple-time, ‘Voglio di vita uscir’
(‘I want to depart this life’) introduced us to the Italian court
musician, librettist and theorbo player’s penchant for the chaconne bass.
Davies’ fresh, unaffected voice moved effortlessly between registers,
particularly in the expressive recitative with which the song closes.
In ‘Figlio dormi’ (‘Sleep son’) by Giovanni Girolami
Kapsberger — a celebrated virtuoso on the lute and theorbo —
accompanist Richard Egarr’s gentle introduction and delicate instrumental
episodes summoned to mind the affectionate, tender strumming of the lute.
Embellishments were relished by both performers, and perfectly judged. This
traditional ‘Ninna la nanna’ lullaby charmed and calmed; in
contrast, the continuous, oscillating, two-note motif which underpins Tarquinio
Merula’s ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna’ bewitched
and disconcerted, before the consoling serenity of the final major key
Listening to Richard Egarr’s accompaniments was the aural equivalent
of watching a painter at work. Relaxed and confident, instinctively attuned to
the ‘colours’ of each song, Egarr selected just the right tints and
shades from an extraordinarily rich palette of tones and textures. The ground
bass in Ferrari’s devotional cantata, ‘Quest pungenti spine’
was superbly realised; the surprising dissonances between voice and harpsichord
were piquantly emphasised but never exaggerated. Davies’ breath control
is extraordinary and was on display in a variety of contexts: in the
extravagant vocal gymnastics of the more elaborate coloratura episodes of
cantatas by Porpora and Vivaldi; in Antonio’s Cesti’s intricate,
freely exploratory lines in ‘Disseratevi, abissi’ (‘Gape
open, ye abysses’); and also here in Ferrari’s long-held, tender
opening notes. From the initial lyrical tranquillity, the countertenor found
just the right sentiment of yearning and ‘sweet torment’, building
as the lines become more florid and impassioned, to an ecstatic conclusion:
“my Lord and God;/ they are the divine arrows/ that, softened and
tempered/ by heaven’s fire/ attract and delight — ”. The
chaconne bass is interrupted four times by recitative refrains, and the
performers’ mastery of the formal structure more than matched their
command of musical detail — and their delight in the harmonic
The second half saw us on the more familiar terrain of the eighteenth
century. In Porpora’s cantata, ‘Oh se fosse il mio core’
(‘Ah, if only my heart’), Davies revealed his dramatic poise,
moving effortlessly between the moods of the successive recitatives and arias.
Vivaldi’s ‘Pianti, sospiri’ (‘Weeping, sighing’)
drew forth the peaks of Davies’ technical armoury — his projection,
pacing, ornamental invention and virtuosic elasticity quite simply took
one’s breath away. However complicated the line, the voice remained
unhindered and light.
In between the vocal treasures, Egarr offered readings of
Frescobaldi’s ‘Se l’aura spira’ and ‘Capriccio
sopra Ut re mi fa sol la’, and Handel’s Suite in D (HMV428),
exploiting texture to create a remarkable ‘dynamic’ variety; the
pianissimo passages were particularly beautiful. Expertly shaping
harmonic sequences and cadences, Egarr assembled the architectural forms of
Handel’s Suite like a master builder.
The encores — an athletic showcase from Partenope and the
lovely Irish folksong, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’ —
demonstrated the performers’ unpretentious, genuine and infectious joy in
the music and its performance. This recital celebrated Director John
Gilhooly’s 10 years at Wigmore Hall. He could not have wished for a more
glorious musical tribute.
Ferrari‘Voglio di vita uscir’
Kapsberger ‘Figlio dormi’
Frescobaldi Toccata Settima from Il secondo libro (solo harpsichord)
Frescobaldi ‘Se l’aura spira’
Ferrari ‘Queste pungenti spine’
Frescobaldi ‘Capriccio sopra Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la’ (solo
Cesti Selino’s Lament: ‘Disseratevi, abissi’ from
Merula ‘Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna’
Porpora Cantata: ‘Oh se fosse il mio core’
Handel Suite No.3 in D minor HWV428 (solo harpsichord)
Vivaldi Cantata: Pianti, sospiri e dimandar mercede