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.
27 Aug 2011
Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals at Grant Park
In keeping with the festival nature of the piece, the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, along with guest soloists and a guest chorus director, gave two performances of Franz Schmidt’s Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln on recent weekend evenings.
Carlos Kalmar conducted his forces with the intensity needed
to retain the devotional focus and tension throughout the lengthy work. In the
extended and demanding role of Saint John the tenor Robert Künzli gave a
riveting performance of vocal and dramatic strengths. Participating in various
solo and ensemble parts the well chosen cast was made up of soprano Edith
Lienbacher, mezzo soprano Christa Ratzenböck, tenor Alexander Kaimbacher, and
bass Albert Pesendorfer.
The orchestral prelude to Schmidt’s composition returns, as
appropriate, at the close in one of several musical gestures underlining the
cyclical nature of the work. In much the same way, the vocal declamations and
variations on these are performed in complementary passages near the start and
at the end of the work. In the role of both introducing and concluding the
piece Künzli’s unflagging Saint John called upon his listeners to recall
the sacrifice of Christ. Further, he announced that revelations concerning the
end of the world would truly come to pass. Künzli’s approach was at times
dramatic and ringing in delivery, whereas at others he used a lighter tone on
softer intonation (e.g., the word “gewaschen”
[“washed”] in “Der uns geliebet hat und gewaschen von den
Sünden” [“He who loved us and washed us from our sins”]). In
the role of the Lord’s voice Pesendorfer gave a consistently strong
impression in vocal flexibility. His extended mid-range notes on “Ich bin
das A und das O” were followed by exhortations to approach the heavenly
throne with well projected articulation on low bass notes. After this
declaration from above Saint John described the heavenly throne with Künzli
achieving specific emphasis on the dramatic “Donner und Stimmen”
(“thunder and voices”). As he concluded this description with rapid
tempos on “einem fliegenden Adler” (“a flying eagle”),
the remaining “Wesen” or “beasts” were enumerated in
their positions surrounding the heavenly throne. At this point the additional
soloists are first heard as part of a quartet in the parts of the beasts. The
soprano, mezzo-soprano, and tenor were joined by Pesendorfer in the quartet as
Kaimbacher’s emotive tenor called memorably the holiness of the Lord. For
the remaining portions of the prologue the Chorus and Saint John, alternating
with the other soloists, introduced the substance of the Book with its seals,
the concept of sacrifice, and the preparations to open the Book and announce
its revealed wisdom.
Just as the first mention of the Book in the Prologue was heralded by the
accompaniment of the organ, Part I and Part II of Schmidt’s work are both
introduced by extended organ solos. As each of the first six seals of the Book
is opened in Part I, a symbolic figure occurs together with descriptive events
on the earth. The Grant Park Chorus, first as a whole and then divided into
groups, communicated in their well-rehearsed performance the fate of
individuals as the firs two seals released the white and red horses of the
apocalypse. Male and female groups of the Chorus conveyed the violent ravages
and the intense suffering as a result of war and its devastations.
Künzli’s moving summary that “Hölle folgte ihm nach”
(“Hell followed after him”) brought a transition to the third seal
or the black horseman of hunger. Pesendorfer’s solo in this role
introduced a duet for mother and daughter. Ms. Lienbacher and Ms. Ratzenböck
sang here with especially effective, merging vocal lines, so that the pain and
desperation of human needs were touchingly communicated. After Saint John
declared the fourth seal opened, and the pale horse of death was announced, the
two male survivors sang that in death they are brothers. Kaimbacher and
Pesendorfer performed with fervor their individual parts of the complementary
duet which coalesced in a Biblical quote that found both voices perfectly
matched. For the earthquake associated with opening the sixth seal toward the
close of Part I both Chorus and orchestra swelled into a crescendo ending on
“O wer kann da bestehen?” (“O who will be able to
The organ solo at the start of Part II has a more ominous tone than in Part
I with, as played here, somewhat more pointed individual notes. In the
introduction to Saint John’s announcement of the seventh and final seal
being opened Künzli lavished emotional effects on his long monologue detailing
the original battle between angels and dragon. Orchestral effects were
carefully matched to vocal lines so that trumpet and percussion led to a
message of judgment. The solo quartet “Wehe euch! Das vierte Wehe”
(“Woe! The fourth sorrow”), as introduced by the bass and
integrating the other voices skillfully, warns of the celestial lights being
extinguished in preparation for the time of judgment. From here to the
conclusion of Schmidt’s work the Chorus shares the sung pronouncements
with Saint John and with the voice of the Lord. Saint John declares now that a
second Book was brought forth, the “Buch des Lebens” or Book of
Life, in which are listed those who will be saved. As Künzli reiterated this
line with emotional emphasis on “Leben,” the series of repetitions
commences which echo the start of the work. His further, emphatic treatment of
the prophecy of “Worte” (“words”), as here most
appropriate, led to a resolution with the Chorus on the word
“Amen!” Chicagoans are fortunate to have heard performances of such
commitment of Schmidt’s Book with Seven Seals. These concerts by
distinguished soloists and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Kalmar
will surely rank among the finest presentations of this masterpiece.