Recently in Performances
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.
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?
12 Jul 2011
Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago Commemorates Gustav Mahler
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death Carlos
Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra gave in early July two performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde featuring the vocal soloists Alexandra Petersamer and Christian Elsner.
The work by Mahler was preceded,
fittingly, by the Musique funèbre of Witold Lutoslawski, which had
originally been composed for the anniversary of Bartok’s death and first
performed in 1958. In its performance of the latter work written for string
orchestra the Grant Park Orchestra under Kalmar gave a seamless account of the
score. The somber introduction for cellos is followed by the gradual
introduction of other string groups. A foremost impression left by these
performances is the sense of symmetry in Lutoslawski’s “memorial tribute”
as the cello ensemble returns to close the piece in an audible mirror of its
opening. The four parts of the work entitled Introduction, Metamorphoses,
Apogee, Epilogue draw on varying sound palettes for individual and groups of
sting players. After the cellos are joined by the remaining strings, tempos
increase and allow for declarative statements performed forte. This
technique used in the two middle segments of the piece is varied by sections
played piano, where the basses used gentle bowing to touching effect.
In much the same way, fragments of melodies were played by individual groups,
the full melodies then growing into a perceptible unit as tempos accelerated
forcefully. A lush, neo-Romantic transition formed the bridge to the
conclusion, or Epilogue, as Kalmar led his players toward a dignified statement
of tribute with the individual strings dissolving into the inexorable return of
The performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde followed this
memorial piece without intermission. In the first of the six vocal parts,
“Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” (“Drinking Song of Earth’s
Misery”), Mr. Elsner sang with lyrical and dramatic force from the start, as
he gave appropriate intonation to the word “klingen” (“resound”). In
the delineation of the “Lied vom Kummer” (“song of care”) Elsner’s
emotional line was matched by the distinctive solo for oboe. Decoration was
taken here as marked with the tenor’s melisma sung on “Fülle”
(“abundance”), so that the word as performed reflected its meaning.
Starting at this point the English horn solo in this performance lent a
complementary sense of melancholy to both the voice and recurrent notes of the
oboe. The concept of eternity, which recurs memorably in the final part of
Das Lied, is here broached, as the tenor contrasts duration and
mortality in “Firmament” and “Der Mensch” (“the heavens,” “You, o
mortal”). Here Elsner’s pitch was less distinctive, as the attack on
“Mondschein” (“moonlight”) and “Gräbern” (“graves”) was sung
with greater force than suitable.
The second song, “Der einsame im Herbst” (“The Solitary one in
Autumn”), introduced the performance of Alexandra Petersamer. From the start,
the security of the singer’s range assured poignant delivery of lines such as
“Vom Reif bezogen stehen alle Gräser” (“The blades of grass stand
covered with frost”). Here Petersamer’s voice rose from stirring low notes
to a bright top with focus on “Gräser” and, with parallel approach at the
close of the strophe, on “ausgestreut” (“scattered about”). When
Petersamer began the penultimate strophe in this brief segment, she sang the
line “Mein Herz ist müde” (“My heart is weary”) with the pitch toward
flat as an illustration of this emotional state. In “Ich hab’ Erquickung
not!” (“I need refreshment!”) she engaged in what approached a dialogue
with the low strings. As a final statement of yearning “Sonne der Liebe”
(“Sun of love”) was delivered by Petersamer with full and convincingly
In the two vocal parts at the center of Das Lied both singers and
orchestra responded to the challenges of tempo in their accomplished
performances. In “Von der Jugend” (“On Youth”) Elsner showed skillful
modulation as he wrapped the vocal line around accelerated playing. Just as
Kalmar’s masterful direction eased the orchestra’s pace at “Wunderlich im
Spiegelbilde” (“Wonderfully in the reflection”), the singer’s voice
showed a matching deceleration, only to conclude this song by reversing the
technique. In her medial song, “Von der Schönheit” (“On Beauty”),
Petersamer was equally impressive as her voice imitated the “caressing
gestures” of “Schmeichelkosen” as well as the sounds of youths riding
their steeds through branches along the river’s bank. In her approach to the
last strophe of this segment she used exquisite lyrical phrasing and
piano shading to communicate the yearning of the fairest maiden
looking after the youth as he galloped away. With tasteful decoration placed on
“Sehnsucht” (“longing”) and “ihres Herzens” (“of her heart”) a
secret melancholy brought the segment to its moving conclusion.
In his last selection, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The drunkard in
Spring”), Elsner contrasted the emotional opposites of toil and torment with
the happy “cheerful day” (“lieben Tag”). After sorting through issues
of volume in the initial strophe Elsner came into his own at the line “Mir
ist als wie im Traum” (“It seems to me like a dream”). At the words
“schwarzen Firmament (“dark heavens”) and “betrunken sein” (“remain
drunk”) Elsner released powerful forte notes directly on pitch to
emphasize his persona’s resolve.
As the final and longest of the six parts of Das Lied Petersamer sang “Der
Abschied” (“Farewell”) with touching clarity of tone. After the
orchestral opening during which oboe, English horn and flute hint at departure,
Petersamer’s singing merged with the instrumental soloists to echo and to
enhance their mood. Her pure, high notes on “nieder” (“downward”) and
“Schatten” (“shadows”) emphasized the words’ true meanings by
contrast of vocal line. The ghostly pitches applied to “Hinter den dunkeln
Fichten!” (“Behind the dark pines!”) evoked an evening’s solitude in
nature coupled with a desire for companionship. While delineating the
atmosphere in the forest her lowest notes were fully audible as the orchestral
texture mimicked the sounds of birds. At this point Petersamer’s
diminuendo on “hocken still” (“crouch silently”) effectively
capped the emotive setting in nature. As her declarations on beauty echoed
earlier sentiments, an orchestral interlude extended the atmosphere with
notable contributions from the woodwinds and low strings. Petersamer’s
singing concluded the piece as the “Trunk des Abschieds” (“Cup of
Farewell”) began the future thematic wandering of the departing friend. The
singer’s elaborate, meaningful decoration executed on “einsam Herz”
(“solitary heart”) illustrated along with the concluding intonations on the
repeated “ewig” (“eternally”) that this was a performance of Das
Lied von der Erde in which text and music are ideally joined, where poetry
and song receive their due when performed with such significance.