07 Feb 2011
Turandot, Florida Grand Opera
In 2010, Florida Grand Opera held a gala to honor Robert Heuer on his 25th anniversary as general director.
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.
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.’
In 2010, Florida Grand Opera held a gala to honor Robert Heuer on his 25th anniversary as general director.
On hand to join in the festivities was the great American baritone Sherrill Milnes who named Florida Grand Opera among the nation’s top regional companies. Compliment or challenge? The ultimate challenge for FGO in this, its 70th season may be to maximize efficiency without sacrificing quality. Dusting off thirty-year-old Turandot sets for the season opener (seen November 13th) speaks to the former and maintains a streak begun in 2009 of presenting productions designed and created for FGO.
Two features were immediately identifiable on curtain: a stage-covering set, the aft section of which molds the Forbidden City into a dragon, and the plush atmosphere that are quintessential Bliss Hebert (Staging) and Allen Charles Klein (Sets, costumes and lighting). A flash point in this scene is a sharpening wheel setting off sparks as the many executioners run swords across it. Act Three brings a particularly dark and dank garden, as Calaf and townspeople contemplate a sleepless night. Fine points in the work of Klein and Michelle Diamantides (Wigs and Makeup) include Ping, Pang and Pong wearing Kabuki face paint, and a wide palette of costume variations (Sumo gear on executioners, Samurai outfits on soldiers, and Sages of caricatured pre-frontal cortexes).
Familiarity was also supplied by the musical direction of Ramon Tebar, wielding baton here again, having led FGO’s Lucia last season. Tebar seems to prefer slow, deliberate beats that were quite successful in this Turandot, if taxing on some singers. The orchestra met crucial moments head on, playing chords strongly — with powerful horns and hammered, note-perfect percussions; the Riddle Scene simmered in mystery. Less successful was the over-bright harp playing following Turandot’s lines and a general slackening of musical structure in Act Two.
Lise Lindstrom is in exclusive company: singers that can easily clear the steep crests of Turandot. Her voice is penetrating and interesting, warming to the ears as the night progressed. Lindstrom excelled in Alfano’s passages, possibliy presaging a move into Wagner. In currying the Emperor’s sympathy and hinting at curiosity over Liu’s devotion, Lindstrom delved into La Principessa’s internal struggles. Where Lindstrom’s voice is pointed in focus, Frank Porretta’s is spread, making for shaky balancing with the orchestra. Still, Porretta’s Calaf stayed the course with well-taken but inconsistent legato and game attempts at varying expressiveness.
Frank Porretta as Calaf, Elizabeth Caballero as Liu and Kevin Langan as Timur
Elizabeth Caballero’s vocal glamour is well-known to audiences here and on that reputation she did not renege as Liu. Refined musical accents abounded — pianissimo in the correct places and generous outpourings of sound from notes in the meat of her voice. Kevin Langan’s Timur - fragile, sincere and strong of heart - was perhaps the most complete characterization of the evening. Robert Dundas is a youthful voiced Emperor of noble spirit. All supporting parts came off aptly, with a vote of vocal promise for the second handmaiden Emilia Acon, a distinctly rich sound. Hebert’s blocking and Rosa Mercedes’ fine and uniform choreography cushion production elements that verge on excessive. In Puccini’s final work, impact rests greatly on the chorus and FGO’s group is polished and disciplined under the direction of John Keene; Timothy A. Sharp drew a solid performance from Miami Children’s Chorus.
Lise Lindstrom as Turandot and Frank Porretta as Calaf