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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.