09 Jun 2011
Andreas Scholl, Wigmore Hall
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening.
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.
“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening.
A capacity crowd at the Wigmore Hall eagerly awaited the arrival of Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin on the platform on Tuesday evening. Given the famed serene beauty of Scholl’s countertenor, the programme of mostly slow, contemplative songs from sixteenth- and seventeenth- century England, followed by simple canzonettas by Haydn and folksong arrangements by Brahms, promised great delights
However, Scholl took some time to settle down. Purcell has formed a staple element of his concert programmes and recordings of recent years, and he is renowned for the quiet, controlled restraint which so much of this repertoire demands; yet, the opening two songs suffered from a rather constricted, thin tone and a few problems with intonation. ‘Music for a while’ epitomises the composer’s deep, reflective style, characterised by a controlled simplicity which calls for clarity of line and carefully, flowing phrases. One would expect Scholl to effortlessly deliver the goods, but in contrast to the dark, expressive elaborations of Israeli harpsichord Tamar Halperin’s introductory harpsichord realisation, the vocal line rather lacked shape and focus, the phrases disrupted by exaggerated by over-emphasis on textual repetitions.
Scholl’s diction was also quite poor with consonants and vowels all sounding rather similar. Although it did improve as the evening progressed, he did not ever quite capture the subtleties of the texts, the rich suggestions latent in its metaphors and understatements — as in, for example, Johnson’s ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow/ Before rude hands have touched it?’ The exclamatory flourishes of ‘Sweeter than roses’ did, however, demonstrate his theatricality as the striking textual images triggered rapidly changing vocal moods, complemented by varied accompanying textures.
The first instrumental item completed this Purcellian group. Halperin’s rendering of ‘Round O’ was delicate and restrained; thoughtful ritenuti in the variations made the restatements of the theme seem relaxed and inevitable. Later, the slow movement of Handel’s F Major suite was similarly affective; the repeated middle-register chords above which the ornate stream of melody unfolds were evenly and carefully placed, a ceaseless, sustained bed of sound for the decorative figurations above. One longed for several more movements from this work.
Scholl continued with repertory by lutenists associated with the Elizabethan and Stuart courts — John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Thomas Campion. Here there was more attention to the small details in the texts: in ‘Sorrow, stay’, Scholl’s gentle tone brought out the quiet despair of phrases such as ‘Mark me not to endless pain’, and some simple word-painting was made more pungent by oppositions of major and minor tonalities. The energy and optimism of ‘Say, Love, if ever thou didst find’ introduced a welcome contrast to the melancholy mood. Campion’s ‘I care not for these ladies’ was the most bright and fresh of these songs, as Scholl really engaged with the narrative, subtly changing tempo, pausing or altering emphases to convey the wit and humour of the text. The cry — ‘forsooth: let go!’ — of the girl who is courted and kissed by the poet-speaker, was at first one of denial, then lacked conviction, and finally seemed decidedly inviting!
A return to Purcell brought the first half to a close, and the sensuous sentiments of ‘O solitude’ brought forth a greater range of colour from Scholl, as he shaped the wide ranging phrases effectively, making expressive use of his dark-hued lower register.
After the interval, Scholl seemed more relaxed and the songs by Haydn and Brahms were eloquently delivered. The simplicity of Haydn’s three canzonettas was enlivened by the light, playful accompanying gestures which Halperin, now seated at the piano, introduced, and she demonstrated a similar understated restraint and firm appreciation of classical balance and form in the composer’s Sonata in A, the movements propelling ceaselessly forward into one coherent whole. In the ornate triplets of the Andante, Halperin sustained the evenness of the continuous flowing line while shaping individual motifs with grace. Subtle manipulation of the tempo deepened the expressive power of the minor key Trio in the Minuet, before a rapid alleviating of mood in the jovial Finale.
Scholl seemed most at home in four folksongs selected from Brahms’ Deutsche Volkslieder. In ‘Guten Abend’ he effectively conveyed the tension between the two voices, ‘Er’ and ‘Sie’, engaged in an awkward discussion about love. A similar opposition in ‘Es ging ein Maidlein zarte’ (A tender maid went out’) was further enhanced by the contrasting accompanying textures, rich chords conveying the natural world in which the ‘cheerful healthy maiden’ delighted, being juxtaposed with low halting, hollow octaves. Halperin brought much insight to these rich accompaniments, and also showed great invention in the improvisatory accompaniments to the three English folk-songs which concluded the recital. Now fully at ease, Scholl’s warmer and more relaxed tone led to increased textual clarity, which in turn helped him develop a closer relationship with the audience.
Indeed, throughout the performance Scholl sought to engage directly with his listeners, frequently prefacing the songs with explanations and introductions. Occasionally this destroyed the continuity of mood that the music itself established, however; and, similarly, there was rather too much to-ing and fro-ing between items, as the performers left and re-entered the stage when they were not themselves performing.
There was even some audience participation — not a regular occurrence at the Wigmore Hall! — when, before the interval, Scholl invited us to join in with the refrain of Purcell's ‘Man is for the Woman Made’, in which he himself deployed his conventional tenor register. According to his preamble, Purcell intended the song to provide some light relief for the original theatre audiences. A little surprised, but delighted by the invitation, the Hall proved in fine voice. Indeed, the recital had begun rather unconventionally when one rather exuberant member of the audience greeted the appearance of their ‘idol’ with football-crowd style whooping — possibly the first time such ‘unmusical’ sounds had been heard inside the hallowed walls of the Hall? The more familiar appreciative cries of ‘Bravo’ brought the evening to a warm conclusion.
Purcell: Music for a while; Sweeter than roses; Round O
Dowland: Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears; I saw my lady weep; Say, Love, if ever thou didst find
Handel: Two movements from Suite No.2 in F
Johnson: Have you seen the bright lily grow?
Campion: I care not for these ladies
Purcell: O solitude, my sweetest choice; Man is for the woman made
Haydn: Two English Canzonettas; Sonata in A HXVI:12
Brahms: Four folksongs arranged from the Deutsche Volkslieder
Three Traditional Folksongs: I will give my love an apple; O waly waly; My love is like a red, red rose