Recently in Performances
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.
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