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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..
21 Sep 2011
Turandot in San Francisco
Los Angeles has been good to Turandot. The gritty 1984 Andre Serban production inaugurated an opera company in Los Angeles where a mere eight years later L.A. Opera bestowed the splendid Luciano Berio ending upon the world in an uber-pompous Gian-Carlo del Monaco production.
Meanwhile that same year (1992) Los Angeles artist David Hockney bestowed a Turandot upon San Francisco (and Chicago) that is pure Tinseltown. L.A. is famously the Hockney muse, thus the specific muse for the technicolor Hockney Turandot has to have been Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Like this National Historic Monument, the Hockney Turandot vibrates in theatrical shapes and Chinese red, and by now it too is an historic monument.
San Francisco has put its unique stamp solidly on Turandot as well. The 1977 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production had its massive stone Buddha that gestured and wept blood when the steely Monserrat Caballé succumbed to Luciano Pavarotti in their role debuts, this back in the days when San Francisco Opera pushed the progressive opera envelope in the U.S.
Leah Crocetto as Liù
These days it is a bit different in San Francisco. There is a stamp of a different sort, it is musical and it too pushes the envelope. Specifically it is the quixotic Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti who makes every score he touches vibrate with color, energy and sometimes questionable theatricality. Put this together with the timeless Hockney Turandot and you hit remarkable pay dirt — the current Turandot in San Francisco!
The Hockney Turandot is, no surprise, like a painting in that it is two dimensional. On this flat surface Ping, Pang and Pong complain, Liu sacrifices, Calaf thunders and Turandot rages. The lack of depth plays directly into the hands of the maestro who likes his singers right downstage center where he communes mightily with his voices and maybe even with Puccini. The current staging by Carnett Bruce is sensitive to artist, character and story telling, and it is precise and efficient in somehow getting and keeping the artists where the maestro wants them and where Hockney surely saw them.
The performance was riveting from beginning to end. Even so there were those scenes that glowed with new life — the Ping, Pang, Pong conversation for example, made intimate by the three Hockney straight backed chairs painted onto a drop and by the maestro’s oh-so smooth intermingling of their vocal lines. Liu’s first act prayer 'Signore ascolta' was magical in its Adler Fellows innocence, and the Alfani duet (“who is Berio?” Luisotti surely would ask) that ends the opera was articulated with a surprising intimacy that made us actually feel a renewed humanity — no small feat amidst all that bombast.
Marco Berti as Calaf, Gred Fedderly as Pang, Daniel Montenegro as Pong and Hyung Yun as Ping
The biggest vocal presence was Italian tenor Marco Berti as Calaf who used his strangely brutal 'Nessun dorma' to threaten the Chinese royalty and population even more, and more quickly dismiss Liu’s sacrifice. Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin was far more lyrical in her capitulation than the usual Turandot, though there was icy rage aplenty as she well anchored this story of anger versus power. Against this big house firepower the Liu of Adler Fellow Leah Crocetto was indeed sacrificial, a sacrifice of this symbolic character who must fully embody the supernal power of love. The mix of musical cultures does not work — the Adlers are specifically nurtured contemporary artists whose sophistication is at odds with can belto international artists.
The Timur of Raymond Aceto fulfilled its narrative obligations without adding pathos. The Ping of Hyung Yun dominated the trio of courtiers in association with the vivid Pang of L.A. character tenor Greg Fedderly. Pong was Adler Fellow Daniel Montenegro.
The visual sophistication of the David Hockney Turandot begs precise and brilliant lighting, a need recognized from the inception of this production those many years ago. Just now the lighting was reconfigured by Christopher Maravich though the ending was new. Mo. Luisotti endowed the final chord of the performance with an intense, nearly screaming crescendo that was matched by a crescendo of bright, brighter, blinding light.