Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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?
28 Mar 2011
Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera
Rossini’s penultimate stage work, Le Comte Ory, belongs to
the tradition of sexy scoundrel operas, along with such works as Don
Giovanni, Zampa, Fra Diavolo, Barbe-Bleu,
Les Brigands and Threepenny Opera.
You could make a case for
adding supernatural scamps like Der Vampyr and Tannhäuser to
the list. The hero may be a rogue—in fact, rogue is his job
description—and may even be a cutthroat or worse, but he’s a
lovable fellow for all that. And he almost never gets to home plate with the
ladies whose hearts he flutters; the censors wouldn’t have stood for it.
Thus the joke of Gilbert and Sullivan’s spoof in The Pirates of
Penzance: Their chorus-full of reckless rogues lust “to be married
with impunity” to the bevy of helpless females they are about to abduct.
(Is it coincidence that most of the sexy scoundrel operas are French? No.)
Michele Pertusi as The Tutor
The censors wouldn’t have stood for it then, but there are no censors
now, and opera directors are all for full disclosure. This mars Bartlett
Sher’s colorful if bare-bones staging of Le Comte Ory for the
Met. Consider the final trio: Ory, our scoundrel, has disguised himself as a
nun in order to enter Countess Adèle’s bed in her darkened chamber.
Unbeknownst to him (but obvious enough to us), Adèle’s young suitor,
Isolier, is also present, and in fact the Count is embracing Isolier as Isolier
embraces Adèle. If this seems a bit racy for 1828, even in Paris, ne
vous-inquiètez pas: Isolier is played by a mezzo soprano. Audiences
didn’t mind watching a man fiddle with a boy so long as the boy was
obviously a woman. (The first time I saw this opera, Lucky Pierre—sorry,
Isolier—was played by a countertenor; he seemed to be enjoying the
But in Sher’s production, all three persons scramble around each other
among the bedclothes as if this were just an ordinary three-way with no story
to tell, and it is impossible for the Count not to be aware that he is
in bed with two other people. Adèle, too, should not be aware of what is going
on; here she’s a merry participant. It may seem a small point, and
everybody around me found the slapstick hilarious, but the premises of farce
must be taken seriously for the mad machine to work properly. Either Joyce
DiDonato is a man or she isn’t; if she isn’t, why does Adèle hope
to marry her? If she is, why does the skirt-chasing Count enjoy being in bed
with him? It’s as if Lucy schemed to divorce Desi and demanded custody of
his band: It violates the clear farcical contract for which we have been so
carefully set up.
Stéphane Degout as Raimbaud
Sher, as in his previous Met shows, Barbiere and Hoffmann,
is always willing to dump the plot to insert a dumb joke; this was also true in
his disastrous staging of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
He only seems capable of theatrical discipline if the piece is, like South
Pacific, sacrosanct, guarded by those who can keep him in line. He has no
theatrical clarity of his own. Is this sort of anything-for-a-laugh mayhem what
Peter Gelb means when he refers to a “new realism” in the opera
The singers have been encouraged not to play this charming piece straight. I
would find the evening pleasanter (and probably funnier) if Diana Damrau, a
fine singer as well as a fine comic actress, sang the dizzy Countess’s
fruity tunes with a bit more attention to proper line and with fewer wildly
mugged high notes, and if Juan Diego Flórez’s nasal tenor, never the most
sensuous of instruments, were not quite so dry. He is choosing roles lately
that do not exhibit his extraordinary virtuosity, and his is not an instrument
to make it in bel canto otherwise. There are many far prettier tenor
Diana Damrau as Countess Adle, Joyce DiDonato as Isolier, and Juan Diego Flórez as Count Ory
What, I wonder, would Rothenberger and Gedda have made of the bedroom trio?
With, say, Teresa Berganza as Isolier? I can’t help thinking they’d
have each contrived to keep one foot on the floor, in old-time Hollywood
fashion, but they would still have been funnier than Sher’s
staging, and they would have sounded like a glimpse of heaven.
Joyce DiDonato, as Isolier, is a lovely performer who does not let her
farce-making get in the way of torrents of beautiful Rossini, as heartfelt as
they are pure. She is the reason to visit Le Comte Ory and the reason
to linger to the very end. Susanne Resmark revealed a most attractive alto
voice with more to display than was evident here in the Margaret Dumont-like
housekeeper role. Michele Pertusi was all that could be desired as the Tutor
and Stéphane Degout filled our grateful ears with dark baritone during his
drinking song. Maurizio Benini kept the orchestral sound low so as not to
interfere with singers’ audibility, though as Sher (as usual) pushed them
all to the edge of the stage apron, this was probably unnecessary. In the old
days, and not so very old either, singers could fill the Met from mid-stage and
revel in the filling.