29 Apr 2011
Rigoletto, New York
Rigoletto is the perfect opera. Even Verdi, who wrote so many wonderful scores, never created anything more flawless.
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?
Rigoletto is the perfect opera. Even Verdi, who wrote so many wonderful scores, never created anything more flawless.
Each melody is lovely in itself (except, perhaps, for the court dances of the first scene, which are supposed to seem shallow in any case, and do), but more important each one fulfills its dramatic moment and enhances our understanding of the character who sings it. The dramatic movement is steady and inexorable—and pitiless. Step by step, each important element of the drama takes place before our eyes—nothing is concealed except the Duke’s rape of Gilda, and in some modern stagings we even get to watch that. But the current Met production, thank heavens, designed by Otto Schenk and somewhat vulgarly directed by Gregory Keller, happily spares us that particular debauch. It is a handsome, old-fashioned job, with fine architectural elements and a street in medieval Mantua that, damn it, looks like a street in medieval Mantua. The costumes are rich and attractive. It does the job.
Its third cast this season gave signs, on April 26, of insufficient rehearsal time. This was most clear in Fabio Luisi’s conducting, which throughout the first scene and on several other occasions (notably the murderers’ trio in Act III) raced along far too swiftly for the ability or the experience of the singers. Luisi just didn’t seem to be giving a thought to their vocal situations; a link that should go both ways was only open in one direction. It is not necessary for a conductor to follow his singers, but a certain degree of interaction, of appreciation of the way they are handling their roles and when they are in difficulties, is something one can hope for of a conductor leading a repertory opera of this familiarity.
Giuseppe Filianoti as the Duke
The three leading singers all have excellent reputations to which they all, in part, lived up—the performance hit somewhere around the A-minus, B-plus range. How would this cast sound in a smaller theater, or in a studio with a more relaxed atmosphere? I suspect they’d all have done better.
Željko Lučić has one of the Met’s most beautiful baritone voices just now, but he occasionally sang flat just when one wanted to relax and enjoy it. Still: His “Cortigiani, vil razza” was a jeweled display of Verdi singing, elegantly produced. One might not have noticed, however, that this is a passionate aria, sung in an extreme situation. As an actor, Lučić has much to learn, and the Met might with profit bestir itself to teach him, and not merely how to sing a make-or-break aria with the proper intensity. For one thing, Rigoletto’s hump is not a figure of speech—he’s supposed to be visibly crippled, to have lived all his life with taunts and ill treatment for his condition, to have turned against the human race for this very reason. To stand sturdily upright while those around you mime a cripple to insult you is to miss a big point, and yet this was Lučić’s attitude all night. (His Barnaba in Gioconda omitted personality in the same way.) His joking in Act I lacked point or fury, his behavior in Act II lacked pathos. The courtiers did not toss him about, either—he never seriously tried to break through. One could admire the vocalism; one was never inspired to weep or cringe at the tragic figure. Rigoletto is one of the supreme roles of the baritone repertory; I hope Lučić, who sings it so well, will coach it with someone knowledgeable, or undertake a production with a really inspiring director.
Diana Damrau, in contrast to Mr. Lučić, can act a role and does. She’s studied the libretto as well as she’s studied the music, and she lived every shade of it: Girlish with her father, alarmed and then yielding when alone with her suitor, embarrassed and terrified by the crowd of strange men in Act II, unable to tear her unhappy eyes away, in Act III, from the Duke’s seduction of Maddalena. Her singing, too, was entirely at the service of her dramatic conception—there were vocal fadeouts, muddinesses, thinnesses that I suspect would not have been heard in a rehearsal, the product of her concentration on being Gilda. It was possible to enjoy her “Caro nome” without noticing it was—had ever been—a famous coloratura showpiece, for she made its breathless phrases an expression of girlish ecstasy. She took none of the role’s optional high E’s—which Verdi did not compose—but she also omitted the trills, which he did. Those accustomed to more power at such moments as “Si, vendetta” might also have been disappointed.
Where Rigoletto should be (but Lučić wasn’t) busy, uneasy, concocting and reflecting, the Duke should be graceful, sensuous, at home in his vicious element. Giuseppe Filianoti was a Duke who could not sit still. His pleasing tenor was all over the place, heavily stressed in the first scene, suave and pleasing in the seduction duet, hoarse in the quartet (where the direction demanded far too much activity to permit high notes), and cracking unattractively in his post-coital encore of “La donna è mobile.” He basked in his own and the audience’s affection, so that it was easy to think him a ladies’ man, more difficult to see him as the self-indulgent daydreamer of “Parmi veder.” He often ended phrases with a serene high note, only to be brought up breathlessly short. Was it the unaccommodating conductor or a graceless vision of the part that gave him pause?
One of the most impressive things I’ve ever beheld on any stage was the sight of Ruggiero Raimondi as Sparafucile, singing his lines while holding, over his shoulder, a sack containing Joan Sutherland. After he sang (and he sang well), he slid the sack ever so gently to the floor, where Sherrill Milnes did not even try to lift it, but hauled it to center stage, kicked it a few times, and—out popped Joanie, trilling away! At the next performance I attended, Ivo Vinco did not attempt to carry the sack—an assistant ruffian stood behind him to hold it. Sparafucile in this latest Rigoletto was Stefan Kocán, who sang decently and looked very sporty (hired assassins outdress courtiers in this Mantua, evidently), but whose threats I cannot take seriously—an assassin who needs an assistant to help carry petite Diana Damrau can’t be much good at his job. Kathryn Day, the substitute Giovanna, sang her few phrases with lovely clarity. Someone has told Quinn Kelsey, the Monterone, that this is the Jonathan Miller production set in Little Italy; he sings well but his moves and gestures are those of a low-class Sicilian thug. Monterone is a gentleman at a ducal court and should behave with outraged dignity, a very different thing, at least on the stage.