Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
06 Feb 2011
Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Florida Grand Opera
If you are ever lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch a great exponent of just one of two major roles — the heroines or villains — in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann, you should secure a seat maintenant.
If both of those roles are taken up by such
the rarified performer, it would behoove you to stage a sit-in at the box
office. Florida Grand Opera can boast to the latter situation with its
production of Hoffmann (seen opening night, January 22).
The detail in three of Bradley Garvin’s four villains, each with
oodles of personal stamp, made it easy to forget that he has taken the roles up
only 15 times, covering them at the Met last season. This was the
bass-baritione’s FGO debut. Lindorf was a less developed, more ambiguous
character for Garvin — a bother for certain, probably not evil incarnate.
By turns, Garvin’s Dr. Miracle was cruelly insinuating and, knowing
Antonia’s heart, ruthlessly played on her weaknesses. Garvin’s
transformation included a more backward vocal placement and an eerie French
brogue, adding a backward leaning stance and the creepy pointing of bony
digits; this Dr. Miracle exorcised the living force within Antonia with quiet
David Pomeroy as Hoffmann and Katherine Rohrer as The Muse/Nicklausse
In Elizabeth Futral’s first essaying of the four heroines, her
greatest challenge may well be making a believable woman-as-object out of
Olympia in a production that plays up the phantasmagorical in Offenbach’s
story. Olympia’s costume is a cumbersome cubed-patterned dress, with an
exaggerated petticoat that gives way to a box and keyhole — her cranking
mechanism. Futral darkened her voice, her word texturing the stuff of magic
itself, as she became a helpless and aimless Antonia, on breakneck course to
lose her soul.
Hoffmann was the role of David Pomeroy’s Metropolitan Opera debut in
2009 and the Canadian tenor did many things right in his opera debut with FGO.
The tale of the dwarf Kleinzach was finished well, his singing in the duet with
Antonia was impassioned, and by the epilogue, Pomeroy had plenty in reserve to
return to the final revelation of the Kleinzach legend. His voice is a husky
one that he covers or not at will below the passagio — this is Hoffmann
as a bit of a brute.
In another company debut, Conductor Lucy Arner seemed at home in the French
Romantic repertoire. Arner’s keen sense of tempi and firm hand made
rhythmic timing with singers — one of Hoffmann’s musical moguls
— look easy. The type of delicate instrument playing elicited for
Nicklausse’s short solo in Antonia’s Act reminded that the
conductor has extensive experience in chamber music. Katherine Rohrer (The
Muse/Nicklausse) is a real sprite, most memorable in the latter song and in
serially mocking Hoffmann’s attraction for Olympia. Matthew Dibattista
took on Offenbach, Cochenille, Frantz and Pitchinaccio, carrying on especially
heartily in Frantz’s aria. Phillip Skinner made both Luther and Crespel
relevant. FGO was rewarded by entrusting the roles of Henri Meilhac, Wolframm,
and Schlemil to Young Artist Craig Colclouch. Other Young Artists that
acquitted themselves favorably were James Barbato (Wilhelm), Jonathan G.Michie
(Hermann), Daniel Shirley (Nathanail); Young Artist Courtney McKeown’s
assignment as Antonia’s mother is rather unorthodox here, from the inside
of a huge male action figure, she moved the thing about as she sang.
Elizabeth Futral as Antonia, Bradley Garvin as Dr. Miracle and Courtney McKeown as Antonia’s mother
This joint production of Opera Colorado, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and
Boston Lyric Opera emphasizes the “dreamlike” over the cerebral in
Hoffmann’s tales. It was as if Andre Barbe (sets and costumes) and Guy
Simard (lighting) heaved mixed chunks of Willy Wonka and Dr.
Who on the Olympia and Giulietta Acts. A stage-sized screen with sliding
doors opens to an Offenbach shrine in gold in the middle of Spalanzani’s
workshop. Lime green lab coats and garbage-pail-inspired robots are the stuff
at the workshop and serpentine seahorse headdresses, and rolling staircase
gondolas, a nod to the ‘Barcarolle’ and Venice. If M.C. Escher
etching look-a-likes behind the doors in each act seemed out of place, they did
much to draw the eye downstage. Renaud Doucet’s meticulous consideration
of blocking and movement — each person, down to the last super, had a
place to be and executed some purposeful action — was total. Lastly,
FGO’s ensemble singing overall was as good as it has been since 2005 and
John Keene’s chorus put on a performance of all-around distinction.