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?
19 Apr 2011
Handel’s Hercules when the Music is Paramount
In Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Handel’s
Hercules there is an undeniable interpretive strategy which prompts
the viewer to consider recurring elements of human emotion, e.g. jealousy,
rage, pity, among others.
Further, the setting, costumes, and gestures suggest,
alternately, the concept of the hero returning from military successes and the
accompanying domestic reconciliations which must also be confronted. The
specific associations with modern political and military conflicts, under Peter
Sellars’ direction, are, to be sure, communicated in such a way that more
elemental affects predominate. Hence although some costuming is admittedly tied
to recent struggles in Iraq, the resultant application speaks for universal
emotions beyond any single war. This dramatic success may be ascribed in part,
to the musical direction but at the same time to the extraordinary collection
of vocal talent assembled for this production.
In his attempt to shape “the piece with a view to bringing
Händel’s oratorio closer to Sophocles original play,” Mr. Sellars
divides the work into two parts rather than three acts. The sets remain
generally simple, several benches affording the performers opportunity to sit
or lie while broken columns suggest a neglected domestic court. In the overture
to the first part Harry Bicket led with agile tempos and managed the
integration of individual orchestral sections into a seamless whole. As the
first participants to appear in the initial part David Daniels as the herald
Lichas and Alice Coote as Dejanira, the wife of Hercules, inhabit their roles
with conviction and dignity. Dejanira enters as the colors on the backdrop of
the stage change to indicate day’s arrival. She seems weary and hugs
herself as if to ward off the cold, or solitude. In his comment on observing
the state of Dejanira Mr. Daniels performs the first of Lichas’s solo
pieces with skilled and tasteful decoration. His emphasis on
“relentless” in the aria “No longer, Fate” communicates
the mood of the court as mirrored in Dejanira’s gestures. Further, in his
plea to Jove, Daniels uses discreet trills alternately on “the
hero’s life” and “weeping wife” as a means to join or
contrast the two figures musically who are kept physically apart by war. In her
own self-distracted and pessimistic musing in the aria “The world, when
day’s career is run,” Coote gives appropriately expressive color to
low notes on “darkness” and “thickest gloom.” She sings
her final lines here, in echo of the sentiment of Lichas, with decorative and
emphatic trills on “absence” as key to her emotional anguish.
In the following several scenes the fate of Hercules is presented,
alternately, in negative and in optimistic lights, as the remaining characters
of the piece are introduced. At first, Hyllus, son of Hercules and Dejanira,
vows to search for his father after he consulted an oracle that predicted death
for the hero. In order to assuage his mother’s mood at this news, Hyllus
swears his conviction in the recitative and heroic aria, “Despair not
… Where congealed the northern streams.” In the role of Hyllus
Richard Croft gave a supremely assured performance of the loyal son and future
leader. His vocal embellishments, presented in the most natural manner,
describe “With advent’rous steps” the path he will tread
until discovering the fate of his father. As accompanied by the chorus’s
thoughtfully choreographed “O filial piety,” Hyllus is on the point
of leaving when Lichas interrupts with news of his master’s success.
Hercules has defeated the king of Oechalia and returns with the princess as his
captive. In Dejanira’s reaction, “Begone, my fears,” Ms.
Coote applies excited touches of decoration on “the morning ray”
and concludes with a dramatic top note at the phrase “swell my
soul” to signal her recovery.
(Left to right) Alice Coote, Eric Owens, Lucy Crowe, Marckarthur Johnson and Richard Croft
In the following scene the characters Hercules and Iole, the captive
princess, enter and establish their dramatic and vocal personalities. The two
initial arias performed by Lucy Crowe as Iole were exemplars of character
portrayal and Handelian decoration. While Hyllus looked on with growing
interest Ms. Crowe performed “Daughter of Gods” with a seamless
line and flute-like, rapid high notes on “a thousand graces.” Her
saddened memories in “My father! Ah! Methinks I see” were equally
expressive with noted ornaments touchingly applied on “Dying he bites the
crimson ground.” The role of Hercules, sung by Eric Owens, remains at
this narrative juncture implicitly understated. Mr. Owens communicates the
introspection and detachment of the hero returned in “The god of battle
quits the bloody field,” while also tracing a lyrically embellished line
for the bass-baritone. From this point until the close of the first part the
growing rift between Hercules and Dejanira is detailed in the latter’s
reaction to Iole’s presence. As if to highlight her innocence, the aria
“How blest the maid” is performed by Ms. Crowe with near pastoral
effect as she uses delicate high notes with crystalline effect. By contrast,
Dejanira’s anger and jealousy are expressed by Ms. Coote’s negative
emphases in “Love dips his arrows … and sends them pointed to the
heart.” The emotional violence implied, as well as her own reactions, is
captured by Coote’s contrastive embellishments opposing her role to that
of Iole. As the chorus appropriately concludes the first part of the drama, the
participants remind with hushed tones that “Jealousy” is
“Tyrant of the human heart.”
Just as Hercules and Dejanira stand in this production at the close of Part
I at opposite sides of the stage, in order to signify their continued emotional
distance, Hyllus and Iole appear together at the start of Part II. In answer to
Iole’s protests that love between them cannot prosper, since Hercules
slew her father, Mr. Croft expresses the growing passion of Hyllus with
eloquent lyricism. His downward decorations on the first line of the aria
“From celestial sets descending” are matched by embellishments in
the thematic line “To taste the sweeter heav’n of love.” The
following scenes signal a further separation between Hercules and Dejanira, as
Coote mocks him with growing intensity in the aria “Resign thy club and
lion’s spoils.” As Hercules departs for a ceremony of honors
Dejanira recalls a method in her possession to restore a flagging love. The
dying centaur Nessus had convinced her that his blood would revivify love gone
astray. Not realizing that it is poisonous, she smears it onto a garment which
she entrusts to the herald Lichas to bring as a gift to Hercules. The horrified
report of Lichas ensues, in which the suffering and death of Hercules resulting
from the poisoned garment is related. The hero is depicted lying on a stone
slab from which Mr. Owens sings the aria “I rage” with rapid and
expressive runs in the vocal line. The following two scenes bring to a dramatic
and lyrical climax the sentiments defining both lead female characters.
Dejanira is beset by guilt which Coote declaims with moving fervor in
“Where shall I fly?” Her embellishments on the “skies”
as witness to her guilt conclude with memorable dramatic high notes on
“the pursuing furies of the mind.” Iole’s aria in response,
“My breast with tender pity swells,” reiterates the tone of
reconciliation which characterized her role in this foreign household from the
start. Ms. Crowe’s simple yet decorative trills on “breast”
and “pity” served as a means to deflect the harsh feelings of
enmity and guilt which had preceded the demise of the hero. The final duet of
love “O prince … O princess,” sung by Iole and Hyllus,
brings now full circle the constellation of emotions as survivors and chorus
pass the bier of honor with Hercules’s remains.