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.
01 Feb 2011
Maria Stuarda, Minnesota Opera
The 2010-2011 season for Minnesota Opera is steeped in Bel Canto
opera selections, starting with Rossini’s Cenerentola this fall, currently featuring Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, and for the spring, a production of Verdi’s La Traviata with acclaimed Violetta, Elizabeth Futral.
The current production of Maria Stuarda is
the company’s second installment of the Donizetti Tudor trilogy, with a
production of Roberto Devereax in the 2009-2010 season.
The casting of dueling sopranos, Judith Howarth (Mary Stuart) and Brenda
Harris (Elizabeth I), was spot on. Harris’ golden soprano houses a steely
core, which captured both the warmth and terror of the strong-willed queen in
perfect balance. Her opening cavatina and cabaletta,
“Ah! quando all’ara sorgemi…Ah dal ciel discenda un raggio”
boasted incredibly fierce coloratura, and ascents into the heights of her voice
that both thrilled and terrified. Harris is clearly at home in the Bel
Canto repertoire, though her performance with Minnesota Opera was her
debut of Queen Elizabeth I in Maria Stuarda.
Michael Nyby as Lord Cecil, Elizabeth's councilor and Brenda Harris as Elizabeth I, Queen of England
Judith Howarth’s silvery, spinning soprano was a wonderful
juxtaposition to Harris’ Elizabeth. Howarth gave Maria great depth of
character, vocally with amazing vocal and dramatic finesse and flexibility. In
the finale of Act I, Howarth’s biting Italian diction and metallic high
notes struck lightning during her quarrel with Elizabeth, while her sustained
B-flat sustained over the chorus in Act III seemed to emerge out of the
Both Howarth and Harris are seasoned veterans of the Bel Canto
repertory, and both approached these women with strong and meaningful dramatic
and vocal choices. Tenor Bruch Sledge (Earl of Leicester) nailed
Donizetti’s style musically, but his overall dramatic execution of the
role paled in comparison to the two queens. Sledge was quite awkward in his Act
I duet with Howarth, not connecting to her musical phrasing or even the
dramatic conversation. His stage deportment was impotent, and the love triangle
plot became quite implausible.
Victoria Vargas’ Anne sparked with complete ease in the coloratura and
line, and infused a fullness and warmth that easily cut through the
orchestration. This is certainly the best singing from this Resident Artist so
far this season.
Performances: Feb. 1, 3, 5, and 6 at Ordway