Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
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.
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