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.
22 Apr 2011
Otello, Carnegie Hall
By the time he emerged from retirement with Otello, his
twenty-seventh opera, at 73, there wasn’t much Giuseppe Verdi
didn’t know about how to make an orchestra do his bidding, set the mood
of each line of a good story, piling excitement on excitement and letting the
tension mutate to something gentler at the right times in order to make the
outburst to follow the more demoniac.
This makes the score one of particular
delight to an instrument as skilled and as superbly led as the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra (and its equally illustrious chorus), and the opera’s appeal
clear to its director, Riccardo Muti, a former music director of La Scala.
When, at sixteen, I told my father that I had discovered opera, he got me my
first opera recording: the von Karajan Otello with Del Monaco and
Tebaldi, both singers considered definitive interpreters of the roles at that
time. (In the Rome Opera House, there is a wall-size bronze plaque dedicated to
Del Monaco, with his profile and the bar lines for Otello’s opening
“Esultate…,” a terrific way to remember a tenor, eh?) I
listened to this first recording devoutly, and then encountered the opera in
performance in perhaps Franco Zeffirelli’s finest bit of stagecraft at
the Met, under Böhm, with Zylis-Gara, Vickers and Milnes singing and acting it
superbly. And there have been many great Otellos for me since then
(McCracken, Domingo, King, the frighteningly quiet Willow Song of
Pilar Lorengar, the horrifying Iago of Wassily Janulako), but there were things
in the orchestration that I had not noticed until the Chicago’s
performance before a packed Carnegie Hall last Friday. This points up one of
two advantages about a concert performance of an opera (the first being that no
stage director to distract you from the piece being performed with his own
irrelevance): You can hear the orchestra more clearly, often playing with more
care, than you can in the opera house, where there is a covered pit and the
distractions of the stage and the attention (and the limelight) squarely on the
Riccardo Muti, who has conducted hardly any opera in this country, got his
start in the opera house and his original fame as a stickler for the letter of
the score. This has led to many productions of operas of an earlier era that
aficionados deplore as lacking the high spirits that idiosyncratic singers (of
the best sort) could bring to them. Muti’s attention to detail, to the
symphonic picture and to dramatic propulsion suits some operas better than
others, and Otello is a case where the composer knew just what he
wanted and took infinite pains to achieve it. Muti has great fun with it,
reaching out to each section with clutching, pleading hands, wooing them into
the dynamic he desired. There were times during the lighter, merrier moments
with which Verdi intended the dark drama to be studded—the drinking song,
the “flower” chorus, the “handkerchief” trio in Act
III—that an airier spirit sometimes eluded his attention, but placing the
Chicago Symphony in the hands of such a technician produces gilded, glowing
effect upon effect, each tremolo wind in perfect tune (from sighing violins to
threatening, murmurous basses), each thunderous brass outburst ideally
The singers, all well chosen, were not in quite such superlative form as the
orchestra and chorus. Aleksandrs Antonenko, singing though ailing, in Italian
rather better than his French in last year’s Les Troyens at the
same hall, demonstrated real tenor ping (as the aficionados say) on
Otello’s abrupt rises from the conversational to the furious and was
never overwhelmed by the orchestra. His quieter, more tragic moments were
affecting as well. Krassimira Stoyanova, who has sung Desdemona to acclaim from
Vienna to Barcelona, was occasionally flat in the Act I love duet, but her
placid, dignified bewilderment in the rest of the opera was true and sweet, her
Willow Song and Ave Maria quietly devastating. Carlo Guelfi, not always the
most exciting of baritones, sang a worthy, menacing Iago, with diabolic energy
to his cries of “O gioia!” as his wicked plots moved to fruition.
Juan Francisco Gatell’s Cassio and the few (but full and lovely) notes of
Barbara Di Castri’s Emilia made one eager to hear more of their singing.
Only Eric Owens, the growling Lodovico, proved a disappointment.