Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
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.