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.
03 Feb 2011
Mosheh, a VideOpera
Yoav Gal, an Israeli-born composer-in-residence at the HERE arts complex in
Manhattan’s South Village, calls Mosheh a “VideOpera,” rightly giving as much place to what is seen (electronic projections) as to what is heard (from four sopranos playing the women in the prophet’s life and an orchestra of nine musicians).
Mosheh contains most of what we’ve come to expect from new
operas in the twenty-first century: video and film, of course, and also
gamelan-derived percussive scoring, surtitles to obviate the need for a
coherent drama, and naked male bodies, in this case the non-singing title role.
(Trivia: Name other title characters who do not sing in their own opera.
There’s La Muette de Portici, of course.)
What Mosheh has that I seldom expect is respectable melody.
Miriam’s serenade to her baby brother as she places him in the Nile is an
especially lovely number; Zipporah’s harsh aria about inventing
circumcision to save her new husband from the Angel of Death is less
immediately attractive. Too, the quartet at the conclusion of the opera when
the women narrate the twelve plagues that fall upon Egypt has an eerie harmony
that calls Benjamin Britten to mind.
What Mosheh, the opera, did not have was a coherent, stageworthy
way of telling its more or less familiar story. Without some Bible reading (or
a viewing of The Ten Commandments) and surtitles, I don’t think
an audience would find the action at all clear. It is rather a costumed series
of individual scenes, all for voices of too striking a sameness. Gal writes
well for the voice, without straining the instrument as the atonal opera
composers were prone to do—because, unlike them, he has not renounced
melody as an expressive tool—also, I suspect, he has studied voice
writing and respects the instrument and its capabilities. His four well-chosen
soloists had no trouble filling HERE’s admittedly small space with
thrilling sound that never made us wince.
But because the vocalism accompanied so little action and no dialogue, the
evening never became a dramatic event, that is, an opera. Were sets and
costumes (wild costumes!) even necessary? Were the tremendously elaborate and
often beautiful projections, which led us, for example, through rows upon rows
of columns into Pharaoh’s throne room, or beside the muddy pools of the
Nile required? Is Mosheh’s presence called for by the music, or would any naked
man (a volunteer from the audience, say) do just as well? Or could we dispense
with him too?
Soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, well known among fans of New York’s odder
opera scenes (she was the Wooster Group’s splendid Didone
Abbandonata), made the most striking impression here as Miriam, acting as
well as singing her lovely music.
Heather Green as Bitia, Beth Anne Hatton as Zipporah, Judith Barnes as Yocheved and Hai-Ting Chinn as Miriam [Photo by Hunter Canning courtesy of seven17 public relations]