12 Aug 2011
Gergiev conducts Wagner’s Parsifal
A handsome black steed bows its head, eyes open, peering into the darkness around it.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
A handsome black steed bows its head, eyes open, peering into the darkness around it.
This is the image chosen for the box cover of a new studio recording of Wagner’s Parsifal, from the Mariinsky Opera forces, led by Valery Gergiev. The somber beauty of the artwork, with lettering for the credits in shades of gray (except for the conductor’s name in white) captures both the admiration provoked by the quality of the performance inside, and some discombobulation provoked by the performance as well. For surely the animal most closely associated with Parsifal is a swan, and the corresponding color scheme would be white. So why this horse caught in ebony, as striking as it is? And under Gergiev’s leadership, why does Parsifal feel so tense and charged, with a strong forward momentum, yet also so barren of spiritual depth in the outer acts or sensuality in act two?
Gergiev’s conducting presents the score as a taut (though, of course, extremely elongated) rumination on pain and internal conflict. Of course, there is a lot of that in Parsifal, and so much of this performance works very well. But there is more in the music — the sick sensuality of act two and especially the tender reconciliation and redemption of the final act. Gergiev is less successful at conveying those qualities. The last chord of the score embodies this. Instead of gently ebbing, letting the tension flow away at the drama’s resolution, the chord lingers on in almost grim determination, and then suddenly cuts off.
It is, however, the outer acts that are most impressive, and much of the credit must go to the outstanding performance of René Pape as Gurnemanz. This character and his extended monologues can wear anyone’s patience down in any merely adequate performance. Such is the sheer tonal gorgeousness of Pape’s voice and the sensitivity and conviction of his line readings that Gurnemanz becomes what he is surely meant to be — the soul and essence of the opera’s world. Pape’s performance alone will make this set an essential listening experience for lovers of the opera.
The rest of the cast is strong but not at Pape’s level. Violeta Urmana as Kundry sings every note with beautiful control, but the underlying conflict of her character is not conveyed. In the lead role, Gary Lehman shows why his late-blossoming career found its most fertile soil in Wagner’s opera. His tenor has dark colors, yet still easily attains higher notes. He only lacks that elusive quality which makes a voice easily distinguished from all others. Evgeny Nikitin transmits the agony of Amfortas, while Nikolai Putilin’s Klingsor growls and cajoles with aggressive unpleasantness. `
The admirable packaging has a separate sleeve for each of the four discs. The booklet offers a guide for “Reading the Russian Libretto,” which is fascinating but somewhat confusing in its aim, as the libretto is also available in English, German and French, and surely those who opt for the Russian version already know how to read the language
The sound picture is beautifully captured, and overall this studio recording impresses. When Pape is singing, the selection for the cover of a dark steed makes sense — something noble, powerful, yet pensive and sad is captured inside. Touched with that greatness, this is a Parsifal deserving of attention.