15 Jun 2011
Israel Opera cuts wide swath at festival
Israel Opera’s summer festival grew astonishingly in the year following its 2010 inaugural season.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
Israel Opera’s summer festival grew astonishingly in the year following its 2010 inaugural season.
Then it was Opera at Masada, where Verdi’s Nabucco was performed in a mammoth new open-air theater set between the mountain central to Jewish identify and the Dead Sea. A recital by Jesse Norman was included in the season.
This year it was the Masada Dead Sea and Jerusalem Opera Festival Six performances of Verdi’s Aida were set for at Masada, while Verdi’s rarely performed Jerusalem, a revision of his I Lombardi, was staged at Sultan’s Pool, once a reservoir in Jerusalem’s historic water system. This was also a season of collaborations that contributed greatly to plans by Israel Opera’s inventive general director Hanna Munitz to make this a destination festival on a level with long established programs in Europe.
Special this year was the Masada performance of Verdi’s Missa da Requiem by orchestra and soloists from Arena di Verona, the Italian festival that reaches back to 1913. In the performance the opened the season on June 3 Giuliano Carella conducted the Verona forces, plus the Israel Opera Chorus and Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir. The Verona guests further offered an evening of opera’s greatest hits at Sultan’s Pool, attended by 5000 enthusiastic fans. Star of that show was internationally celebrated tenor Setfano Secco in such favorites as “Nessun dorma” and “E lucevan le stelle.” Carella made the evening a success despite a sound system unfair to the instrumentalists involved.
Once the fireworks of the Triumphal March were out of the way, Aida, seen on June 5, seemed a work not terribly well suited to the vastness of Masada. In the essential duet that results in Aida’s confession of her love for Radames, Aida and Amneris seemed lost in the desert night and without the dramatic personal confrontation that sets the scene for the rest of the story.
Happily, things improved after intermission when China’s Hui He made her entrance on a camel. And it was He who earned high marks for her work in the title role. A former IO Tosca, He was a strong but gently female Aida whose love grew ever greater when challenged.
Of course, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Verdi stacked the cards against Egyptian Princess Amneris, who has little chance of winning the sympathy of an audience. Amneris is primarily a public person, never intended to be passion’s plaything. In the role Hungarian-born mezzo Ildiko Komlosi was a regal presence, conscious of her role in the conflict between public and personal feelings. Yet it was clear that she had no choice in setting the events that would lead to Radames’ death in motion.
Although in appearance hardly a dream Radames Pierre Giuliacci, a familiar figure at European festivals was equally heroic and sensuous as Radames. Veteran bass Paata Burchuladze brought dignity to High Priest Ramfis. Born is a Georgia then part of the Soviet Union, Burchuladze has been an Israel favorite since he sang the title role in the Boris Godunov that opened the opera house in Tel Aviv in 1995. (Thus Israelis overlook an increasingly wide vibrato that is irritating to non-fans.) Italy’s Roberto Frontali made his IO debut as a movingly human Egyptian King Amonasro.
The staging, directed by Charles Roubaud, was largely straightforward. Sets by Emmanuelle Favre were minimal — four sphinxes and a huge royal statue — and wisely made no effort to compete with impressive natural surroundings. Costume designer Denise Dufolt appeared to have found a bargain in white cotton, the dominant material in mob scenes, but unflattering to the full figure of Giulliaci.
Especially effective were projections onto Masada Mountain designed by Nicolas Topor. The production added a bit of local color by including residents of a local Bedouin village in lieu of a dance ensemble. Daniel Oren conducted the IO Orchestra Rishon LeZion.
The sound system failed for a moment late in the production, stressing that technology is never totally reliable. Nonetheless, this was all in all a successful, if not memorable Aida, but as entertainment no match for the exuberance of the 2010 Nabucco, which reached its high point when conductor Daniel Oren conducted the audience in a “community sing” repeat of the famous chorus “Va, pensiero.” Aida does not invite such audience participation.
Aida was a co-production with Les Choragies d’Orange and will be staged at the Roman Theatre in Orange.
The current season concluded with a Masada concert by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli on June 12. In a further expansion of the season, 30 chamber concerts were performed in Jerusalem at places of worship and historic sites in the city.
Bizet’s Carmen has been announced as the major opera of the festival’s 2012 season.
While European cultural capitals have their castles and cathedrals Israel offers the visitor over 2000 years of — often tormented — history. Even so, archeological activity continues at break-neck speed.
Israel is a small and easily manageable land. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, its major cities, are an hour apart, and the drop from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is approximately that distance. Where but in Israel can one float in the Dead Sea, have dinner and head for an opera at Masada all in one afternoon?