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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.
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.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
10 Mar 2011
Cecilia Bartoli in Halévy’s Clari
A key measure of operatic star power is the ability to get an obscure work staged — think Joan Sutherland and her run in Massenet’s Esclarmonde, an outlandish wallow in orchestral excess ladled over a libretto of unfathomable goofiness.
No matter how dubious the chosen work may be, it is sure to have one undeniable virtue for the star — a leading role that encompasses all the singer’s vocal strengths.
Although her performances in staged operas have not been numerous in recent years, there’s no bigger star in classical singing than Cecilia Bartoli. The mezzo-soprano has shown, in a series of best-selling CDs, a comprehensive interest in baroque and early Classical composers, both well-known and lesser-known. In 2008 she brought to Opernhaus Zürich a long-forgotten work of Jacques Fromental Halévy, who is best known today for La Juive, a grand opera with a showcase role for a lead tenor (Neil Shicoff has been that work’s foremost proponent in recent years). Halévy’s Clari, to a libretto by Pietro Giannone, is a very different work — more Mozartean in musical language, and with a simple story that walks an uncomfortable line between comic underpinnings and deeper emotional currents.
The title character, before the stage action begins, has been induced to leave her farm family by an attractive Duke. She expects marriage, but he ensconces her at his home and presents her as his “cousin.” As Clari begins to doubt that she will ever be the Duke’s wife, she slips toward an emotional breakdown. Finally she flees to her home, where she fears her family will no longer accept her. Indeed, her father feels she has shamed the family, but when the Duke follows her to her home, realizing at last what she means to him, the expected happy ending makes its appearance.
Bartoli’s appealing stage manner does not extend to her being a convincing actress, and in the context of the cartoonish production of Moshe Lisher and Patrice Caurier, this staging doesn’t treat Clari’s emotional predicament with sensitivity or insight. Bright colors and broad gestures dominate, as if the creators fear that the audience will grow bored if asked to concentrate on the actual libretto and score. Indeed, Halévy’s music is Mozart-lite, with anodyne recitatives and superficially appealing but quickly forgettable melodies. Apparently, Bartoli herself did not have full confidence in the score, since at key moments she performs a Rossini aria from Otello and a cavatina from an entirely different obscure work of Halévy (La tempesta). Nonetheless, the show is a pleasant enough distraction. An act two chorus sung to an ailing Clari is a beautiful little piece, and an aria sung by a minor character (Bettina, performed by Eva Liebau) struck your reviewer as better than anything Clari gets to sing. The tenor lead, Il Duca, has a nice number or two. John Osborn takes a while to warm up, sounding a bit thin in his first number, with suspect intonation. Even warmed up his voice can’t be called beautiful, but he has real vocal agility and is a scrupulous musician. Unfortunately, as costumed by Agostino Cavalica, he looks less like a handsome libertine of a Duke than an overgrown pubescent boy. The shorts are truly unfortunate.
Adam Fischer and the La Scintilla band enjoy the unchallenging score, keeping things as interesting as possible with sharp rhythms and tight pacing.
Decca offers handsome packaging, although one can’t help but suspect the show is spread over two discs just to offer the set at a higher price point. The expansive booklet features a cartoon-panel version of the synopsis (parts of which also appear in the production as a clever bit of exposition), along with an essay on the opera, a note on the production, and a “Conversation with Cecilia Bartoli,” which is about as conversational as any document emanating from a public relation’s office.
Whether or not this production actually serves as the best representation of the opera Clari, it is very likely to be the only one available, indefinitely (if not infinitely). Bartoli’s vocal charms are on full display, and the show passes the time pleasantly enough.