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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..
28 Sep 2011
Ioan Holender Farewell Concert
What better way for the long-reigning director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender, to celebrate the end of his time in the post than with a lengthy gala featuring such stars as Gergely Németi, Roxana Constantinescu, Krassimira Stoyanova, and Keith Ikaia-Purdy?
Perhaps some will say, a better way would be to also have Plácido Domingo, Leo Nucci, Anna Netrebko, and Thomas Hampson, among others, and sure enough, they appear as well. Actually, the mix of performers — from the most famous names to those of aspiring stars — makes the almost four hours two-disc set of the recorded gala distinguishable from the usual gala fare strictly limited to only the most well-established of performers. Nonetheless, Deutsche Grammophon could not resist giving the set the oddly-phrased subtitle of “A Benefit Gala with Opera World Stars.”
In terms of quality, the four hours steer a very erratic course. A listless Rienzi overture opens the evening, with Zubin Mehta the first of many conductors to pick up the baton in a sort of “conductor relay race” to the podium. The editing makes it impossible to tell if the performers are presented in their true order of appearance. Antonio Pappano has the baton next in the DVD, with Plácido Domingo signing “Winterstürme.” The great tenor is not quite warmed up, but the audience is grateful for his presence anyway. For the next several selections on disc one, the gala slowly slides into effortful mediocrity, with a not very impressive Nadia Krasteva lighting no fires in “Stride la vampa,” and the cellists seen behind her appearing to be a nod away from falling asleep at their instruments. Bertrand de Billy leads a truly unfortunate Hoffmann sextet, with intonation differences reaching Schoenbergian proportions. Two selections from Così pass unmemorably in the staid professionalism of Michael Schade and Barabara Frittoli, although Angelika Kirchshlager tries to liven things up. An unquestionably elegant tenor, Ramón Vargas simply doesn’t have the tenor juice to make a chestnut like Giordano’s “Amor ti vieta” really ring out, though he is in good form later for Roméo’s “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!.”
The first glimpse of gala greatness comes when Soile Isokoski appears, with the fresh choice of Agathe’s aria from Freischtuz. With pure tone and security of intonation, this singer, who can be an unprepossessing presence, shows what true artistry can do. Thomas Quastoff also offers an unorthodox selection, from Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, but the pleasure in hearing this rare but quite appealing aria is qualified by concern over the baritone’s difficulty with staying in tune, especially in his lower range. Waltraud Meier almost matches Isokoski’s success with an inspired “Mild und leise,” and there are very professional turns by Leo Nucci, Thomas Hampson and Diana Damrau, who closes the first disc. Of the lesser known names on disc one, the best impression is made by tenor Saimir Pirgu, who gets one of the very few Puccini selections of the night, taking on Rinuccio’s aria from Gianni Schicchi. He just needs to secure his very top notes to have a chance at reaching “Opera World Star” status.
Disc two starts off with Vargas and then an ensemble from Die Frau ohne Schatten that rivals the earlier Hoffmann selection for dismaying group intonation. This continues to be a problem with duets from Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer (“O sink herneider”) and Angela Denoke and Stephen Gould (from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt). The dependable Ferrucio Furlanetto brings his King Philippe — yes, in French — to the stage. It is a great piece, but at 10 mostly somber minutes, perhaps not the best gala choice. Johan Botha seems to be a Vienna favorite, as the response to his secure but unaffecting “In fernem Land” is much more energetic than his performance. That same audience — supposedly sophisticated — interrupts Anna Netrebko’s Manon showpiece twice with applause, in the same places where audiences always do. The rest of the disc two gathers steam, with Natalie Dessay, Piotr Bezcala, and Simon Keenlyside providing real star power.
Leo Nucci leads the not unexpected finale of the closing ensemble from Falstaff, after a brief speech from the guest of honor (who also opens the program with some words). Interestingly, the preceding two selections, at least as seen on the DVD, seem to throw a dark shadow on Holender’s perspective as he leaves this major position. First we have Loge teasing the Gods as they lose their power without the golden apples in Das Rhiengold, and then Keenlyside’s Macbeth, saying farewell to “Pietà, rispetto, onore.” Intention or coincidence? Only Holender can say.
Although as seen on DVD the gala evening cannot be called a huge success, this recording has value as a document of the state of today’s “World Opera Stars” and as a place to catch a handful of very fine performances — with “rispetto” and “onore” most deservedly going to Soile Isokoski.