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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
27 Aug 2011
Two one-act comic operas from New York Festival of Song
The New York Festival of Song, created and run by Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, dedicates itself to what one might call “American lieder” — art songs by top American composers, classic Broadway, and operatic numbers.
In 2008 the festival branched out to present two one-act comic operas. The
two librettos by Mark Campbell center on domestic love. In
Bastianello, a new groom leaves his wedding after his wife displeases
him, and through a series of encounters with other couples, learns that in a
marriage, one must learn to forgive others’ faults. Lucrezia finds
the title character married to an older man, and seduced by one Lorenzo, but it
is Lorenzo who finds at the end that it is he himself who has been seduced.
Campbell writes some exceedingly clever lines, which sometimes zing and
sometimes — don’t zing. The actual plot shenanigans tend to be rather
cumbersome, so Campbell relies often on the unexpected rhyme to prompt a giggle
“In my heart these feelings aren’t foreign.
To end this fight/We’ll do what’s right
And flip a florin.”
That “florin” gives a taste of the rather dated genre here — if the
copyright for these libretti were 1908 instead of 2008, only the occasional
anachronism would be alarming. But Campbell does have some lines less musty and
“Is the sex cold? Is it distant? That’s a laugh. Try
All the funny lines imaginable, however, wouldn’t deepen the
characterization or supply the missing narrative interest. “Clever” can
only go so far in maintaining interest in a story and characters, even in one
act operas. The composers had their work cut out for them. William Bolcom’s
music for Lucrezia fares best, possibly because the libretto he scored
is less segregated into scenes. Bolcom is able to keep up a constant flow of
fairly attractive musical invention, shifting subtly from one mood to another.
His familiar mélange of ragtime, tango and faux-Gershwin works well for the
story. Blier and Barrett at the pianos certainly play with rhythmic flair.
John Musto’s idiom for Bastianello is not radically different
from Bolcom’s, but drier melodies and less variety of tempo makes this
shorter opera feel as long as Lucrezia. The five singers seem to be
enjoying themselves greatly, at any rate, and seen live they surely made a fine
impression. Paul Appleby has a supple tenor voice, perfect for “male
ingénue” parts. Matt Boehler and Patrick Mason take on the male “character
voice” parts and mug in ways appropriate to the settings. Sasha Cooke
captures the sly scheming of Lucrezia very well, and she and Lisa Vroman
skillfully take on multiple roles in Bastianello.
Sondheim-aficionados and fans of the type of well-trained vocalism on
exhibit here will find this Bridge recording enjoyable enough. It may not
represent the ideal calling-card for the New York Festival of Song, however.
Fortunately, that institution seems to be enough of an established success that
a calling card — as antiquated a concept as much of the libretti’s
dramaturgy — should prove superfluous.