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.
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.