Recently in Performances
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.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
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.
21 Sep 2011
Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, Chicago
In a program of Italian and French arias and duets Lyric Opera gave to
Chicago audiences a preview of the first operas in its forthcoming season and
an opportunity to hear familiar voices as well as those soon destined to grace
the operatic stages of the world.
The Lyric Opera Orchestra was conducted by
Emmanuel Villaume, and Lyric Opera General Director Designate Anthony Freud
addressed in his welcome the outdoor audience of thousands assembled in
Millennium Park, Chicago. He commented on Lyric Opera’s new campaign
entitled “Long Live Passion,” as a means to celebrate the
particular feeling that opera can engender in listeners.
The first and last selections of the evening were sung by Renée Fleming who
now holds the position of Creative Consultant to Lyric Opera. In a moving
tribute to introduce the concert, which was dedicated to the memory of the
September 11, 2001 anniversary and to military personnel and first responders,
Ms. Fleming sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Rogers and
Hammerstein’s Carousel. Fleming’s other solo pieces, sung
with commitment and truly individual touches of vocal color, included
“Lauretta’s aria” from Gianni Schicchi and
Marguerite’s “Ô Dieu! Que de bijoux!” from Gounod’s
In the first half of the concert Villaume conducted the overture to
Verdi’s Nabucco as a prelude to the vocal selections. The brass
and percussion in the overture were led with firm control, and as the woodwinds
entered one had the sense of a rounded conception. Despite some tempos taken
somewhat slowly the overall effect was a rousing statement of liberation. The
first aria, “O luce di quest’anima” from Donizetti’s
Linda di Chamounix, was performed by soprano Anna Christy. Ms.
Christy’s command of bel canto decoration was evident throughout both
parts of the aria. Her voice hovered on the declamation of “tenero
core” (“tender heart”) just as it lifted on the prediction
for her lover, “s’innalzerà” (“he will rise”). In
the second part of the aria, taken at a faster tempo Ms. Christy’s runs
and tasteful application of rubato and escape tones communicated for her
character a sense of passion as appropriate for this occasion. The following
two soloists, baritone Ljubomir Puškarič and René Barbera
performed staples of their particular repertoire. Mr.
Puškarič’s rendition of Riccardo’s “Ah! Per
sempre io ti perdei” from Act I of Bellini’s I puritani
showed a pleasing timbre with, at times, a need to focus more clearly on the
line as sung. His breath-control and unforced upper register augur well for the
future of this vocal type. Mr. Barbera sang Tonio’s aria “Ah, mes
amis” from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. The tenor
introduced a nice sense of line to an aria which, for other singers, has often
focused instead on individual parts. At the same time, Mr. Barbera’s top
notes, released fearlessly on “mon âme” and “sa
flamme,” capped a performance which illustrated the absolute happiness of
During such a concert with manifold talents in evidence it would seem
difficult to single out individual vocalists for their memorable efforts. Yet
the performance given by mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton of Léonor’s aria
“Ô mon Fernand” from Donizetti’s La favorite
deserves particular recognition. Here was a voice that showed remarkable color
and depth from the first notes of her aria. One admired the security of range
as Ms. Barton’s voice lamented the fate of her love, the vocal line
descending to heartfelt emotional depths at “Hélas! est condamné!”
(“Alas! My love is condemned!). Her ascent to top notes on
“tout” (“everything”) and “justice” and the
cry of despair, which she took forte without a trace of harshness, prepared a
transition to the middle section of the piece. At this point Léonor appeals to
God for death. Her line, “fais-moi mourir” (“make me
die”), performed by Ms. Barton with a fully rounded expressiveness, made
the character’s entreaty all the more credible. In the last segment of
the aria, taken at a brisker tempo, Ms. Barton’s melodic agility and
dramatic high notes concluding on “sera morte avant ce soir”
(“will be dead before tonight”) gave an exciting finish to this
accomplished performance. As a whole, Ms. Barton’s aria was yet another
example of the passion in which both singers and audience participate and about
which Mr. Freud spoke as being an integral part of great operatic
In the remaining selections from the first part of this concert listeners
had the opportunity to hear soprano Susanna Phillips sing the Act I duet from
Lucia di Lammermoor with Mr. Barbera taking on the role of Edgardo.
Ms. Phillips has an excellent sense of adapting her voice to a role and to the
emotional complexities as they might change even within scenes. Her
legato singing throughout was impressive, and her shading on words
such as “pensiero”and “messaggiero” made her hopes for
a letter from Edgardo seem even more plaintive. This part of the evening also
featured bass James Morris in two selections. In his performance of
Procida’s aria “O tu, Palermo” from Verdi’s I
vespri siciliani Morris’s flexible line and his superb Italian
diction made much of the aria. Before the intermission he shared the stage with
Mr. Puškarič as they sang the duet for bass and baritone from I
In the shorter, second part of the concert both the solo and ensemble
singing continued to introduce less familiar pieces alongside well known
selections, all performed with style and commitment. Ms. Christy and Ms. Barton
performed the duet for the title character and Mallika from Delibes’s
Lakmé. The voices blended very effectively with Ms. Barton providing
just enough mezzo-soprano heft to suggest a woven texture of the two
performers. In the barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann Ms.
Fleming sang together with mezzo-soprano Emily Fons. Just as in the duet from
Lakmé the two singers started at different points yet merged vocally
to achieve a rich, undulant blend. As a solo piece Ms. Fons performed afterward
the aria for Niklausse “Vois sous l’archet fremissant”
(“See beneath the quivering bow”) from Les contes
d’Hoffmann. In keeping with her character’s message to
Hoffmann Ms. Fons lent great pathos to extended low notes on
“l’amour vainqueur” (“conquering love”) and
“douleur enivrée” (“anguish of passion”). The romance
as here performed by Ms. Fons encouraged Hoffmann to find solace in art, just
as the sounds of the strings seemed to echo effectively in her delivery. Also
in this second part Ms. Phillips performed Juliette’s well known
“Je veux vivre” (“I want to live”) from Gounod’s
opera. Noteworthy was the vocal coloration by which Ms. Phillips communicated
the youthful naïvete of Juliette while other parts of the aria as sung hinted
at an adult and realistic perspective. Also included in this segment of the
concert was an ardent performance by Matthew Polenzani of Werther’s aria
“Pourquoi me réveiller” (“Why awaken me”).
The audience in Chicago was treated to a well chosen variety of vocal
splendor and has much passion ahead in the upcoming season of Lyric Opera of