Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
04 Apr 2011
New York City Opera’s evening of “Monodramas” (under that
general title) may not appeal to the opera-goer who prefers such typical fare as the company’s other offering this week, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, but I found it a devilish and delightful exploration of the depths of inner consciousness.
John Zorn’s La Machine de l’être (The Machine of Being)
began with an empty stage gradually filling with silent individuals dressed in
all-covering costumes resembling burqas. A man and a woman dressed modern
formal wear with stark white shirts and ties moved among the growing throng.
One of the burqa-d women darted away when approached, as if in fear, then
disappeared into the crowd, giving the proceedings something of the feel of a
video game. The actors in suits removed the burqas from two of the crowd to
reveal, first, a man dressed in a painfully brilliant red suit, and second, the
soprano dressed in a starkly white gown. It was unsettling to find a man under
a burqa, and he remained an uncomfortable presence on stage. A large cartoon
“speech balloon” rose out of the floor and into position just over
the head of the darting woman, adding to the video game impression. Film clips
of drawings adapted from those made by Antonin Artaud during his incarceration
in an asylum played across the balloon. These disturbing drawings complemented
the disjointed music as both became increasingly twisted and tortured. Finnish
soprano Anu Komsi, in her City Opera debut, did a fine job tossing her voice in
the air evoking a descent into madness in this free-form piece that lacked both
text and plot.
Kara Shay Thomson, soprano
During a riveting entr’acte, Jennifer Steinkamp’s
stunning video display of a stylized forest moving through the seasons played
across the cartoon balloon. The video began with a wild profusion of pink
cherry blossoms mixed with yellow flowers and moved on to greens of summer,
then orange leaves falling and blowing and leaving a gray tangle of bare
branches. I was almost disappointed when the second Monodrama began.
But the gorgeous orchestrations of Schoenberg’s Erwartung
soon enveloped the audience, pulling us into the depths of the lonely
protagonist’s consciousness. A stunning blizzard of brilliant red leaves
fell on the stage for over half of the 30-minute piece. The glittering,
tumbling red was mesmerizing against the midnight blue backdrop. A dead man lay
in the middle of the stage with a knife protruding from his chest while the
tortured ravings of the soprano, sung movingly by Kara Shay Thomson, were all
that was needed to explain the drama—but several dancers provided an
unneeded distraction throughout this beautiful and compelling operatic
Cyndia Sieden and ensemble
The final, longest, and most abstract Monodrama of the evening was
Neither, set by composer Morton Feldman to a text by Samuel Beckett.
The mystical and complex orchestral part was richly complemented by the
continually evolving splashes of intense colors and shapes created by the laser
and holographic effects (after work by the innovative laser artist Hiro
Yamagata). Mirrored one-foot cubes moved and revolved, sending flashes of color
and penetrating lights across the house. The singer and the several dancers
reacted to and interacted with the cubes, as the singer seemed to try to find
some connection with the other people. Cyndia Sieden’s voice sailed above
the orchestra, intoning the text in a near monotone that never left the highest
extremes of the soprano range.
The City Opera is certainly to be commended for stepping beyond the
traditional operatic comfort zone to present these three fascinating and
compelling performance pieces. It bodes well for the future of opera as a
living art that this company has brought such work to its audience.