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?
14 Aug 2011
Ariadne auf Naxos, Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble
Today’s general public labors under the unfortunate misconception that in order to enjoy opera, one needs to be educated and at ease with mobility in social circles largely consisting of decrepit old rich people.
What the general
public doesn’t understand is that this very same question has been
debated for centuries within the realms of opera itself. The question of
high-brow versus low-brow entertainment goes back at least to the creation of
Italian opera buffa, which dates from the Enlightenment. The comic, and
consequently unflattering, portrayal of the aristocracy which has come to
define opera buffa set the genre at odds with opera seria, which attempts to
depict the aristocracy as noble human beings who tragically suffer for the good
of the state. This binary, which epitomizes the adage that tragedy shows us our
betters, while comedy scoffs at the misfortune of others, has defined opera
ever since. However, by integrating operas buffa with opera seria, Richard
Strauss’s opera-within-an-opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, carried the
tradition of opera buffa into the 20th century.
Dell ‘Arte Opera Ensemble’s recent production of this bubbling
comedy should be commended for an all-around stylish performance which captures
the wit and the lyricism of this work. The term “Mozartian” has
been applied to other Strauss comedies like Die Liebe der Danae and
Der Rosenkavalier; however, this assessment sometimes seems
implausible simply because Strauss was working with an orchestra of Wagnerian
force. An orchestra of this size was simply not available to Mozart. This
explains my fear on seeing that the orchestra was considerably smaller than the
normal forces required. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conductor
Christopher Fecteau struck a noteworthy balance between humor and aesthetics,
bringing a classical precision to the trio of the nymphs in the opera proper
was certainly reminiscent of Der Rosenkavalier.
Mezzo Sarah Heltzel was utterly compelling as the Composer (played by Juli
Borst on August 18 and 20). The blind devotion to music as an art form that she
injected into the character made the themes of the opera, the conflicts between
what a composer wants to write and what his audience wants to see, more
tangible than in Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio where the
question that was debated was whether, when writing an opera, were words or
music were more important. Like soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who played the
prima donna, (who is played by Jane Shivick on August 18 and 20) the
commitment that Heltzel brought to the role served as fodder for the contrast
between their idealized view of art and the more realistic view of opera, as
personified by the commedia dell’arte troupe and soprano
Jennifer Moore, who played Zerbinetta (played by Jennifer Rossetti on August 18
and 20). Stewart sang warmly, yet when called for, she could also sing
Jennifer Moore was delightfully girlish as Zerbinetta. Her portrayal
strengthened the parallels between Strauss and Mozart, as her Zerbinetta could
be a modern-day Zerlina or Despina. It should be said, however, that in the
Prologue, despite her glorious high notes, the body of her voice was slightly
heavier than other Zerbinettas, such as Elisabeth Schwartzkopf’s. That
said, she could be lyrical when called for. More importantly, Act II was her
time to shine. She clearly relished her showpiece; her cadenzas were simply
stunning. At the same time, her singing highlighted the implied mockery of the
proverbial bel canto scena, which coloraturas love to lose
their minds to.
As the Dance Master, Edwin Vega (played by Andrew Klima on August 18 and 20)
obviously had fun, and his light tenor was always a joy to hear. In the second
act, he vocally outshone the other the singers in the commedia
dell’arte troupe. That said, the troupe worked cohesively as a team
and created immensely comical portrayals of each character throughout. The trio
of the nymphs was in splendid vocal form as well. On the whole, the only rough
spot in the second act was Shawn Thuris’s rendition of Bacchus, which was
a little understated compared to that of his partners on stage. Even so, there
were moments where his singing shone through.
Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is one of a number of organizations, such as
Wolf Trap Opera Company, that is dedicated to providing young singers with the
tools they need to succeed in the extremely competitive world of opera.
However, this company is still unique insofar as it performs in a Greenwich
Village loft, allowing the audience to be quite literally feet away from the
actors. I even had the honor of shaking hands with Zerbinetta. In this way,
Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble provides an invaluable experience not only for
its singers, but to its audiences as well.