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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
18 May 2011
Orfeo ed Euridice, Metropolitan Opera
Gluck’s Orfeo is, intentionally, free of clutter. If you cut
out the scenes of balletic rejoicing just before the finale (and I can’t
think of any good reason not to do so), it’s less than ninety minutes of
Gluck’s intention was to isolate the story in three individual
voices, as no opera treating the story of Orpheus had done before. He could
even have made it a monodrama, and in some ways it is one: The roles of
Euridice and Amor are neither large nor intricate in the original Vienna
version of the score. (Euridice’s aria was a Parisian afterthought, as
was Orfeo’s coloratura showpiece in Act I, which may not even be
Gluck’s work. Neither is performed at the Met.)
David Daniels as Orfeo
The Metropolitan Opera production, directed by Mark Morris, seemed, when it
was first mounted, to be mostly about Isaac Mizrahi’s distracting
costumes for the chorus (some idiot tale about “all the famous people in
history witnessing the story”) and, secondarily, Morris’s jazzy
choreography, almost the only scene-setting we have for Tartaros or Elysium.
There was some story about a guy who goes to the Underworld to bring
back his dead wife, but that came a poor third. On its latest revival, those
miserable costumes are still around, but the chorus do not rush about on their
catwalk portraying furious Furies; they stay sedately in place, out of the
spotlight. The lighting is seldom upon them anyway, and one can ignore their
egregious intrusions and just listen to the way they sing. (Beautifully, with
very precise diction.) Morris’s choreography also seems less to clutter
matters and (I could be wrong here) there may have been cuts in the celebratory
dances. So at last the opera is about Orpheus and Eurydice, a pleasant, nearly
Lisette Oropesa as Amor
Antony Walker, an Australian, made an excellent, brisk debut in the pit, and
even at its most languid moments, the musical tension never let up all night:
an energetic performance informed, one suspects, by a background in the
current, danceable Early Music style of doing galant music. He plays
well with singers, too—this staging requires the chorus to keep time,
beating their hands on the rails of their bleachers, at certain moments.
David Daniels is now 45, and countertenors’ voices do not last as long
as, say, Wagnerian sopranos’ do. I hear less of the thrilling sensuality
in his alto that had me gaga in earlier years, less control at the edges of
individual notes, but he has always been a superb musician and a passionate
actor, and his Orfeo is a memorable, ardent portrait. When he stands alone,
bereft, at the center of the stage (vertically as well as horizontally) for the
climactic “Che faro senza Euridice,” a clear and simple statement
of anguish, he has earned our total attention and repays it richly. This is
what Gluck’s clarifying reform of opera was all about.
David Daniels as Orfeo and Kate Royal as Euridice
Lisette Oropesa made a pleasing god of love, the voice pure and clear,
filling the hall, the gestures a minimum of cute excess. Kate Royal made her
Met debut as Euridice, with a voice of distinct color and beauty and an
attractive stage presence, but she did not make terribly much of this pallid
character’s awkward situation, as Danielle de Niese, in striking
contrast, did, and for some reason she had lost her vocal footing for the final
triumphal duet and was unable to regain it.