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It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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.