Recently in Performances
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.’
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.
16 Mar 2011
Magnificent Mahler by Shanghai Symphony
It was, of course, only a coincidence, but a week of ideal spring weather — no rain and low humidity — found Shanghai in a perfect mood for an all-Mahler program by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra on March 12.
calls of the First Symphony were unhackneyed, and those who recalled
Mahler’s early programmatic references in the work to the awakening of
spring — to fruits and flowers — found themselves in a magic garden
for a program that combined the Wayfarer Songs and the four-movement
version of the First Symphony. Even had it been performed in a Midwestern
blizzard, however, this was Mahler that made one sit up and listen — and
be grateful for a moving musical experience.
The Shanghai Symphony, which dates back to a municipal band in the 1870s, is
today the outstanding orchestra of Eastern Asia. Under Music Director Long Yu
it has toured Europe and the US and has even been heard at the movies on the
sound track of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although it must be
said that the SSO does not have the refined and mellow sound of many Western
ensembles — the silvered strings and burnished brass, it has something of
greater importance: the dedication of its instrumentalists and their full
emotional involvement in what they are doing.
Guest conductor for Mahler was Chinese-born Lan Shui, currently music
director of the Singapore Symphony and — since 1907 — chief
conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic. Given the conductor’s
adolescent mien, it is difficult to believe him old enough to have once been
tutored by Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. In the States he has held positions
with orchestras in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Lan Shui is elegant and unmannered and he knows his Mahler as if by
instinct. His reading of the First Symphony was analytic, but never academic.
He sensed in the score a narrative impulse, but knew how wrong it would be to
make that into a romp through field and forest. And outstanding was his
“feel” for the irony that gives the First that
“there’s-more-here-than-meets-the-ear” sensation. He
deliciously caught the tongue-in-cheekedness of the hoarse bass that leads to
“Brother Martin” in the third movement, thus making clear that this
is funereal music of quite a different color from that heard in the Fifth
For even the still-youthful First can grow lugubrious in the hands of a
conductor with no understanding of the many levels of the score. Thus it was no
surprise when Lan Shui brought the horn section — bells up-turned —
to its feet in the brass blast that concludes the First. This was exuberant
China’s Yang Jie is a true alto with a radiant and resonant low
register well suited to the Wayfarer Songs, on which Mahler worked in
the years of the First Symphony. In the West she includes Carmen in
her signature roles. Long gone is the day when Wayfarer with its story of
unrequited love was consider male property — just as the outwardly
maternal Kindertotenlieder were once assigned to female vocalists. With perfect
German diction Yang Lie is totally at home in the cycle with its shifting
moods, its light and dark moments.
The quality of the March Mahler was undoubtedly enhanced by the presence in
the orchestra of all four members of the Shanghai String Quartet. Founded in
the city three decades ago and now on the faculty of the local conservatory,
the four men enjoy “sacred-cow” status in Shanghai. When in town
they teach at the Conservatory from which they graduated. (In the States they
are in residence at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.) First
violinist Weigang Li served as concert master on March 12.
Although the Shanghai Concert Hall, the orchestra’s local home, was
built by a Chinese architect in 1930, it would be at home next door to
Vienna’s gilded Musikverein or any of the historic halls of Europe that
have survived. The hall — 1200 seats seems a good guess at its size
— was reopened in 2004 following total reconstruction. It is acoustically
sound, and generous lobbies opened onto balconies on a mild March evening. It
is close to downtown, and taxis at a flat rate of 12 Yuan — no tips!
It would be presumptuous for a first-time concert goer in China to draw
sweeping conclusions from a single experience. Nonetheless certain things were
happily obvious. The concentrated — indeed, devout — attention that
the Chinese bring to music is astonishing. Barely a muscle moves; even
breathing seems hushed. There is absolutely no applause between movements, and
the standing ovation now near-obligatory in the West is absent in Shanghai.
Enthusiastic applause continued until conductor took concert master by the hand
and left the stage.
The college-age set is a far larger part of the Shanghai audience than it is
in the States — explained in part perhaps by the fact that the city
boasts China’s major conservatory. And dress? As in almost all countries
today one comes as one is. The “little black dress,” if China ever
had one, has gone the way of the Mao jacket!