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
Prom 32: Brahms and Mahler
Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Das klagende Lied
did not seem to be the most obvious bedfellows — there has been some
rather peculiar programming at this year’s Proms — and even after
further consideration, the only real connection I could muster was that they
were written at the same time: the concerto in 1878, the cantata between 1878
At any rate, Christian Teztlaff gave a fine account of the former,
though he was not always matched by Edward Gardner’s conducting, which
was mostly unobjectionable — more than can be said for many examples
— but not especially rich in insight. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was
generally on good, if not infallible, form, its first movement contribution
more lyrical than stentorian. (A mobile telephone provided unwanted
interruption during the first exposition.) Teztlaff’s solo performance
was intensely committed, fiercely dramatic, and unwavering in intonation, the
cadenza (Joachim’s) providing both intimacy and direction. The opening of
the ensuing coda proved splendidly autumnal, though its conclusion was arguably
rushed by Gardner. Unwelcome applause intervened prior to a slow movement in
which Tetzlaff generally acted as first among serenade-like equals, the spirit
of Mozart undeniably present. Though the opening woodwind solos, especially
Richard Simpson’s oboe, were well taken, there was a sense that they
might have sung still more freely had Gardner moulded them less. That is a
minor criticism, however, for Tetzlaff’s sweet-toned rendition ensured
that the heart strings would be tugged where necessary, without the slightest
hint of undue manipulation. Gardner, to his credit, held the audience at bay
during the brief pause before the finale. Rhythms were well pointed here,
though there were times when the orchestra felt a little driven.
Tetzlaff’s musicianship and virtuosity were never in doubt; it would be
good to hear him in this concerto with a more experienced Brahmsian, such as
Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, or Sir Colin Davis. If anything even better was
his poised, thoughtful, richly expressive encore account of the Gavotte en
rondeau from Bach’s E major Partita. Not for the first time, the
smallest of forces seemed to project better than a typical symphony orchestra
in the problematic acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall.
Gardner fashioned a performance of Das klagende Lied that was more
‘operatic’ than benefits the music. Or, to put it another way, it
concentrated on highlighting of certain textual ‘incident’ and
artificially whipped-up excitement in a stop-and-start way that recalled Sir
Georg Solti (though I am not sure whether Solti conducted this particular
work). At least, though, we could hear vibrato-laden strings, a relief after
the horror tales of Sir Roger Norrington’s recent Ninth Symphony. The
orchestral introduction to ‘Waldmärchen’ was somewhat hesitant at
first, and then, as if to compensate, was fiercely driven. It eventually
settled, but the movement as a whole did not. The second stanza, though well
presented vocally and orchestrally, simply dragged, Gardner seemingly finding
it impossible to alight upon a just tempo. Uncertain brass slightly marred the
brothers’ entry into the forest, though tenor Stuart Skelton gave a good
sense of Mahler as balladeer. When, during the final two stanzas,
Mahler’s Wagnerian inheritance — Gardner seemed previously to have
done his utmost to make the composer sound closer to Verdi! — inevitably
came to the fore, whether through harmony, instrumentation, and vocal line, it
was almost a sense of too little, too late. Anna Larsson, a late substitution
for Ekaterina Gubanova, nevertheless proved a wonderfully rich mezzo
Intimations of the First and Second Symphonies in the introduction to
‘Der Spielmann’ came across clearly — how could they not?
— but, in Gardner’s hands, there was something unnecessarily
four-square to the phrasing. Christopher Purves, however, proved plaintive
indeed upon the words ‘Dort ist’s so lind und voll von Duft, als
ging ein Weinen durch die Luft!’, even though the pacing now had become
unduly distended. The first entry of the off-stage band sounded splendid in
itself, but Gardner struggled — and failed — to keep it together
with the ‘main’ orchestra. There were, happily, no such problems
later on. Tempi here and in the concluding ‘Hochzeitsstück’ veered
towards the comatose, however, interspersed with ‘compensating’
rushed passages. What should sound wide-eyed in its staggering youthful
ambition and accomplishment tended merely to sprawl. (Applause again intervened
between the second and third movements.) Choral diction was very good
throughout, though it would have done no harm to have had a larger chorus.
Treble voices touched in their fragility, helping to prove once again that it
is this original version of Das klagende Lied that has the superior
claim to performance. I cannot begin to understand David Matthews’s
programme note claim that the revised two-part version is
‘incontrovertibly tighter and arguably more effective’. If the
effect were somewhat sprawling, that was the fault of Gardner’s
performance, not of the work itself, which is a much better piece than this
evening’s audience may have been led to believe.