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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.
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.’
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.