Recently in Performances
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.
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.
26 Jun 2011
Two Boys, ENO
You would have had to be deaf and blind — or perhaps just a very wise
monkey — not to have been aware that a young American composer called
Nico Muhly was about to open at the English National Opera in London last night
with a work called Two Boys.
Since late last year, it seems that the
personable and obviously multi-talented Muhly has been (pardon the allusion)
pushed down our throats from every media-angle, and by too many London hacks
anxious to maintain their street-cred in Twitter-land. This kind of media blitz
is obviously a two-edged sledgehammer: if the show bombs then everybody looks
somewhat foolish, if it achieves critical and/or box-office success (I suspect
the latter in this case) then we’ll probably get bombarded again all too
soon with the next wonder-kid of modern music. Ah well.
At the world premiere of Two Boys last night, (cleverly being
opened here and not at its co-pro alma mater of the Met) you would have been
forgiven for thinking that you had missed the date and wandered into London
Fashion Week. Everyone who had read all the supplements, all the tweets, all
the blogs and listened to the podcasts — or even just came on spec
because everyone else said they should — was there. It was achingly hip.
Never mind — we all want opera extending its audience so why not? It
probably swelled the coffers of the ENO champagne bar.
So how was it? Well, perhaps one should score it in TV Talent Show style and
take it from there:
Story: 6/10, Music: 6/10, Production: 6/10........you get the idea I expect.
Singers? Definitely 8/10, if only for commitment to the work, vocal
characterisation, and damn good acting within the limits of the production.
Craig Lucas has written a libretto that is based on a true news story of
some years ago about two boys, internet chat rooms, assumed identities and
attempted murder and this story — slight as it is in dramatic terms
— worked to a point. What was lacking was any depth of characterisation,
any motivations or emotional developments to give the piece structure. Maybe
that was part of the plan: certainly the waves of music that swirled and pulsed
and counterpointed the long articulated lines of speech/song didn’t
suggest much in the way of dramatic development or journey. Muhly’s work
is difficult to describe; his music is like high-class mood-music, or perhaps
those compositions carefully constructed and “written to picture”
for an expensive nature documentary. It doesn’t challenge the listener,
nor does it repel — but I doubt it delighted or surprised many either.
Susan Bickley and Nicky Spence
The singers were universally good: the core of the story lies with the
investigating police officer played by Susan Bickley (does she ever
disappoint?) who has demons of her own to confront as a stranger in the strange
land of her suspect’s virtual world of net friends. Her diction was
excellent and character well-drawn. That suspect, who we know as
“Brian”, is sung by young tenor Nicky Spence with a tremendous
empathy for this pathetic, unintelligent, bullied young man who’s flashes
of desperate anger at his uncomprehending parents just reinforce his weakness
and lack of self esteem. That excellent work was matched by the amazingly
confident performance of boy treble Joseph Beesley — one just hopes that
the calculated evil inherent in his character doesn’t leave too much of a
shadow. The many supporting roles were equally well presented and sung without
a single unhappy choice — and singers and orchestra (under Rumon Gamba)
seemed well-rehearsed and remarkably slick considering this was a first night
of an entirely new work.
Joseph Beesley and Nicky Spence
On the production side, a few good ideas were made much of but could have
been given more emphasis — the video backdrops of world-wide internet
“chatting” — words repeating, and reappearing, and often
mirroring the actual sung words. Some of the best dramatic moments came with
the chorus spread around and above the stage suggesting the vast numbers of
internet chatters communicating endlessly and pointlessly from their sad
individual bedrooms. The graphic video work was good — but again could
have been so much more; in fact the whole production just felt as if it were
treading far too carefully, too “nicely” and was afraid of
upsetting anyone. All a bit anodyne, in essence. Perhaps they will push the
boat out a bit more for its New York premiere? Somehow, I doubt it.
Six more performances through June and July: see www.eno.org