Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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