09 Sep 2011
Les Troyens by La Fura dels Baus
When the opera opens, a chorus of Trojan is rejoicing that the Greeks have abandoned the war and gone home.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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?
When the opera opens, a chorus of Trojan is rejoicing that the Greeks have abandoned the war and gone home.
They are dressed as contestants in a hockey game—at the end of the second act we will learn, from Casssandra’s jersey, that they play for Team Troy.
This is startling. On closer inspection we see that the costumes also have elements of the clone warriors in Star Wars, and many other sorts of mechano-futuristic adventure-kitsch will appear later: the Trojan Horse is a kind of space capsule, made of steel planes that become whirling blades; when, in the first act pantomime, Hector’s little orphan puts an offering on his father’s tomb, it turns out to be a toy monster-truck. Later, in the Carthaginian acts, Dido and her court inhabit a space ship: four huge octagonal rings with a nose cone in back, and eight giant gray inflated cylinders protruding forward, creating an allusion to a hull. Dido has left Phoenicia to build a city, not in Africa, but in outer space.
Berlioz’s singers undergo a great many transports, and rapture, in this low-gravity environment, always means levitation. Cassandra and the other suicidal women rise out of the clutches of the Greek rapists; Dido and Aeneas rise into the air as the they sing their duet, at the end of which Mercury flies by in a satellite to urge Aeneas to leave Dido and fulfill his mission; Hylas, at the beginning of act 5, is not in the crow’s-nest of a ship but floating in a space suit, tethered to a satellite, with Greenland far below.
Carlus Padrissa, the stage director, has other technologies in his armamentarium. The cast often lug computer monitors with them: during the lovely act 4 septet, the monitors show treble clefs and other music-notation detritus, reinforcing the idea that this opera is, in fact, an opera. At the end of act 2, the rear projection displays a computer monitor sending alarming messages of system failure and virus alert. Indeed the production seems designed to be seen less in an opera house than on a computer screen: at the end of act 5, as Dido commits suicide, she stands on the nose cone (now outfitted as a kind of bed), upon which computer monitors are erected, showing the image of the Trojan Horse from act 1: Dido is dreaming of a new Trojan Horse to lay waste the second Troy that Aeneas will build in Italy. Objects continually threaten to flatten into digital images, in this extremely pixeled production.
I admire the way in which Padrissa attended to the strictly narrative and metaphorical aspects of the text: aspects that Berlioz left undramatized, Padrissa dramatized. When Cassandra sings of the vultures that will eat the Trojans’ bodies, the circumvolving smoke on the rear projects starts to turn into shadowy images of huge pecking birds. When Aeneas narrates the death of Laocoon, strangled by sea serpents, two gray cylinders (which will be part of the space ship in act 3) come to life and (with dancers strapped to the ends to represent mouths) start to devour Laocoon. The visual elements become a second orchestra, telling what Berlioz’s staging was (in Berlioz’s time) unable to show.
Musically, the production is beyond anyone’s dreams of excellence. Lance Ryan’s Aeneas is rhythmically careless in places, but outdoes Vickers in vehemence and (maybe) vocal power; Elisabete Matos’s Cassandra and Daniela Barcellona’s Dido are merely superb. Gergiev conducts with ardor, subtlety, and decisiveness. But: not many members of the cast can sing French vowels without discoloration.