Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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.