27 Jul 2011
Rigoletto, Miami Lyric Opera
There’s hell to pay for profligate publicity; Giuseppe Verdi and Francisco Maria Piave knew this to be true.
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?
There’s hell to pay for profligate publicity; Giuseppe Verdi and Francisco Maria Piave knew this to be true.
Wanton rankling may start off with high ratings and a spike in tickets sales but can easily degenerate into opprobrium and murk an artistic work’s essence. The opera Verdi and Piave set out to complete for Teatro La Fenice was on course for such an ignoble providence were it not for the duo’s imagination, and discretion. La maledizione was the working title for the opera almost cursed with the sort of attention that would dull its artistic merits.
Distilled from a Victor Hugo play with a checkered performance past, the opera would meet with its own curses before its premiere in 1851. The play (Le roi s’amuse) and the opera (Rigoletto) revolve around such a curse, something Miami Lyric Opera Director Raffaele Cardone reminded of when he addressed the audience pre-performance on opening night June 23rd. Placing the context of Rigoletto directly on, and finding its dramatic pole in, the curse teased the imagination as to what was to come, holding out the suspense of the grist for Rigoletto’s mill: La maledizione.
This performance marks a whole new set of standards for MLO. Sets (designed by Carlos Arditti), still on the main backdrops, were more suggestive of the piece (in this case, 16th century Mantova) and redolent of specific scenes: there were columns and archways at the party and a nicely lit (in blue) background, the alley where the sanction was dealt was as an hallucination - a dark and muggy picture; Rigoletto’s domicile was depicted by a patently different scene (turning a bit cheeky when a flimsy wall shook terribly as the jester set the ladder on it). The curtain rose for the final time to a tavern that any assassin might find a suitable safe house.
Artistic expression and sensibility in staging too have improved for the small company. A soft screen hazed the view of the opening scene, the ballroom at the Ducal palace; courtiers held their dance poses for the length of the overture. Movement in the room thereafter was well-planned, with varied exchanges as members of the court came in contact with each other. Blocking and shifting of positions was thoughtful too for the Act Three gathering of Gilda’s abductors. Adequate effects (strobes/lighting by Kevin Roman) in that final scene at the tavern saw to a turbulent tempest.
Musically, including in the singing, those heading the company have much to be pleased with. Conductor Doris Lang Kosloff and players seemed to work well together, resulting in nice string articulation (with fine violins in Cortigliani), sweet flute phrasing (in the work’s echoed themes) and well-modulated dynamics. Miguel A. Raymat beat clear, accurate, and powerful sounds on the kettle drum, supporting the overture, the storm, and the finale.
Cuban baritone Nelson Martinez first appeared with MLO in a Gala concert in the spring of 2007; Martinez sang a Rigoletto later that same season. With the company he as appeared as Rossini’s Figaro, Escamillo, and Giorgio Germont. Locally, Martinez is considered a tested talent; his proved to be the most schooled voice — technically and stylistically — in this cast. As far as size (and heartiness) and the ease of its use in high tessitura, Martinez’s voice does well by Verdi. It is hard to forget the force of the high note he held out to close ‘Pari siamo’.
MLO went out of town for the Gilda. Gina Galati is an American soprano that has studied in a Verdian Academy at Bussetto; she has the voice — its flutter fitting for ‘Caro nome’ — and looks of a soubrette. This was Galati’s first singing engagement with MLO; she shared Gilda with local Susana Diaz (the Gilda on June 25th). As the cad, the vehicle through which Verdi’s opera gets interesting, the Duke of Mantua, Aurelio Dominguez had some laudable moments in this tricky role and his first outing with MLO (two other tenors sang on subsequent performance evenings). The difficult recitative and aria that opens Act Two, where the Duke implores the heavens over the snatching of Gilda, was a triumph for the tenor. Dominguez ducked few obstacles, meeting Galati for the high note in their duet.
MLO returnee Diego Baner made a fine Sparafucile vocally — the rapid vibrato of his bass an interesting change of pace. On the stage, Baner distracted with his tendency to look downward. Graduating from the Florida Grand Opera chorus to a critical role here, Monterone, Cuban bass-baritone Armando Naranjo clearly understands the importance of the curse; Naranjo communicated anger with constant fervor in his singing. Lisseth Jimenez was a saucy Maddalena of darkish tone and Jesse Vargas and Mathew Caines did good work in their brief moments as Borsa and Marullo. Ketty Delgado (Giovanna) and Erica Williams (Paggio) appeared for the first time with MLO.
Pablo Hernandez (Chorus Master) did not put his group to work for the storm and the singers were musically rough here and there (in the second act, the men were at odds over entrances and the text). In the case of costumes, Pamela De Vercelly is credited for colorful work. Vercelly will not be faulted for hosiery (a few with Swiss cheesy wear) unflattering to male cast members whose best features are not their legs. One could be cursed with much worse.
La maledizione would also be a dummy title meant to throw authorities off the scent of Verdi and Piave and their busy redactions of Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse. Hugo encountered trouble mounting the play in France due to its content and the opera was meeting with similar obstructions in Italy some twenty years later. As it went, La maledizione went through a number of textual alterations as Verdi and Piave tried to satisfy censors that feared the reprisal of royals over their less than stately depiction. La maledizione wound up retaining its place in the story; the hunchback also remained and was renamed, as was the opera, Rigoletto.