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.
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.