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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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
26 Oct 2011
A Portrait of Manon — Young Artrists at the Royal Opera House
Without young artists, no art form will thrive or grow. The Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists scheme nurtures the best from its young artists that their performances attract thoughtful audiences.
All members of the Royal Opera House Young Artists scheme are professionals, not students, and have extensive experience even before they come, as former Young Artist Simona Mihai put it “to be polished like gemstones”. Graduates of the scheme include Marina Poplavskaya, Jacques Imbrailo and Ekaterina Gubernova.
Most of the Young Artists are singers, but the scheme also covers other aspects of opera-making. The singers, directors and conductors in the scheme created this special performance of Massenet Le Portrait de Manon and Berlioz Les Nuits d'été to demonstrate their skills.
Massenet composed Le Portrait de Manon in 1894 as a one-act sequel to Manon. It is an excellent choice, coming after the Royal Opera House productions of Manon and Cendrillon. Knowing the background is valuable, as Le Portrait de Manon is essentially an epilogue to Manon. However, this Young Artists production was good enough that it could stand on its own.
Des Grieux (Zhengzhong Zhou) has grown old and bitter, so trapped in his grief that he's irritated when his lively young nephew Jean (Hanna Hipp) falls in love and wants to marry. The set (Sophie Mosberger) is very well designed, emphasizing Des Grieux's isolation, despite the trappings of wealth. There's a long rumination, in which Des Grieux sings about his past. Zhengzhong Zhou worked two years in France, and sang Valentin in Gounod's Faust earlier this month, so although he's only 27, he characterized Des Grieux's personality with emotional depth. His makeup was so well done, he looked as mature as he sounded. Pablo Bemsch, as Tiberge, Des Grieux's friend, was also very convincing, extending our sympathy with the predicament. Des Grieux isn't being unreasonable when he opposes Jean's marriage: perhaps he doesn't want the young man to be hurt as he was.
Zhengzhong Zhou as Des Grieux and Hannah Hipp as Jean
Love and youth will triumph, after all, as this is opera. Hanna Hipp is one of this year's new members of the Young Artists scheme, but she impressed greatly even as a student several years ago at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Here she's a vivacious young scamp in trousers. Maybe Des Grieux is right, Jean's too young to be tied down. But Hipp and Aurore (Susana Gaspar) are spirited, and their confidence in their roles makes the resolution inevitable. Stunned by Aurore's appearance, dressed as Manon, Des Grieux remembers and relents. If Manon the opera is tragic, Le Portrait de Manon is an invigorating romp, and in this performance, deftly executed.
Berlioz’s Les Nuits d'été is a song cycle, and even in the 1856 orchestral transcription heard here, doesn't transfer easily to the stage. In theory, there's no reason why not, and the undercurrent of dream unifies the group of songs. While the staging for Le Portrait de Manon was concise, enhancing, adding to meaning, the staging for Les Nuits d'été was clumsy. One bed might have sufficed. These songs express states of mind, not different characters.
Hannah Hipp as Jean, Pablo Bemsch as Tiberge and Susana Gaspar as Aurore
Pablo Bensch had been interesting as Tiberge earlier, so I was looking forward to his Villanelle. Unfortunately orchestra and singer weren't properly aligned, the winds entering insensitively, throwing the vocal line off kilter. Fortunately, Bemsch was better supported in Au Cimitiere. Hanna Hipp and Susana Gaspar sang the other songs. The balance was good, making a case for mixed voices. Berlioz sanctioned this, but it's usually impractical in recital — another good reason for paying attention to Young Artists Events, where repertoire is often approached in interesting ways.