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On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
09 Mar 2011
Luca Pisaroni at the Wigmore Hall, London
After hearing his stunning Leporello at Glyndebourne and his Figaro at Salzburg, there was no way I was going to miss Luca Pisaroni’s concert with Wolfram Rieger at the Wigmore Hall, London. But I was delighted by how wonderful he sounded close up in recital.
Extremely erudite choice of programme too. When Pisaroni started singing, it fell into place. He’s primarily an opera singer and a specialist in Italian repertoire, Mozart and baroque. He even grew up in Busseto, Verdi’s birthplace, so he could coast to the top “to the manner born”.
So the fact that he chose an unusually intelligent programme says a lot about his versatility and musical instinct. He’s also smart enough to have figured out the Wigmore Hall ethos. Although the auditorium wasn’t full, those who were there were the real cognoscenti, serious listeners who really appreciate good singing (and good programmes). Some of them are getting on in years and don’t get out as much as they used to, so the fact that they were there is a huge compliment to Pisaroni.
And Pisaroni delivered! Schubert wrote several operas in Italian, but instead of singing “bleeding chunks”, Pisaroni picked Drei Gesänge D902 (Metastasio, 1827), which look like excerpts but were written as stand-alones. This integrity brings them closer to Schubert’s song repertoire. They’re Italianate but Schubert’s Austrian aesthetic is clearly distinct. Pisaroni placed the last song in the group first, Il modo di prender moglie (How to choose a wife — for money!), which was a good idea. It’s a strophic comic ballad which doesn’t make great demands — lulls you into forgetting who the composer might be. Then, the first song L’incanto degli occhi (The magic of eyes) where the true Schubertian voice is unmistakable. What a witty juxtaposition! Pisaroni not only has an amazingly good voice, but musical intelligence, too. Then you appreciate the humour in Il traditor deluso (The deluded traitor) which isn’t morbid, despite the title. When Pisaroni sang “Ove son io?” (Where am I?), he repeated it cryptically, I had a vivid mental image of Schubert, frustrated by having too little success in a genre he needed to master if he’d compete with changing fashions.
Hence, Rossini. Again, Pisaroni chose songs rather than bits from popular operas, to connect better with Schubert. Pisaroni is a bass baritone, so the darker timbres were extremely beautiful, but the voice is agile and flexible, so the transits upwards come with ease. Truly a gorgeous voice, full of nuance and colour.
Franz Liszt wrote transcriptions of Schubert’s songs which are still popular today, though they sound much more Lisztian than Schubertian. They’re florid, as if Liszt can’t quite get the Lieder aesthetic and submerges it in too many notes. That’s fine, they’re different composers. Liszt also knew Schumann, the “new music” of the 1840’s. There are well over 70 Liszt songs for voice and piano, but Pisaroni again chose thoughtfully. Two settings of Heine, one of which, Im Rhein im schönen Strome is indelibly associated with Dichterliebe and Schumann. Liszt’s S272 (1855) is a more studied piece, reflecting a different approach to song, which is quite distinct, though the text in the last verse demands similarly strong phrasing.
Pisaroni and Rieger followed with three songs Schumann didn’t set, to emphasize Liszt’s unique style. There are vaguely Schumannesque passages in the piano parts, though Liszt doesn’t write extended preludes and postludes. Der Vätergruft (1844, Uhland) displays Liszt’s gifts as dramatist. The ghost of a knight joins his ancestors in their tomb. “Die Geisterlaute verhallten, da mocht es gar stille sein” (Ghostly sounds fade and silence reigns again). This could almost be a song without words, it’s so effective.
This extremely well planned recital ended with Liszt’s Tre sonetti di Petrarca S270 in the version for baritone and piano. Liszt as pianist triumphs. This isn’t Germanic Lieder by any means but completely unique. Reiger played with great delicacy, matched by Pisaroni’s sensitive modulation. His Benedetto sia’l giorno is truly a love song. He lingers gently on the words “E i sospiri e le lagrime” so they feel like a gentle caress. An exquiste recital wonderfully realized. Next time Pisaroni appears, there should be queues around the block. He’s singing Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo at Glyndebourne this summer with Sandrine Piau, who did fascinating programme of Schubert transcriptions last week. (See review here) So we’ve heard both Pisaroni and Piau in two unusual recitals in the same week at the Wigmore Hall. Brilliant!