Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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.