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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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.