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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.
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.’
02 Oct 2011
Eugene Onegin, Los Angeles
Kudos to the Los Angeles Opera Company for expanding its heretofore limited
Russian repertoire and opening its 26th season with Tchaikovsky’s
Eugene Onegin. The romantic work based on the novel in verse of the
same name by Alexander Pushkin, is likely everyone’s favorite
Kudos too, for having presenting the work in a production created by the
late Stephen Pimlott for the Royal Opera House and the and the Finnish National
Opera (more about this later) which, though it sparked discontent at its 2006
London premiere, introduces a new view of the tale.
Whereas Pushkin narrated his lengthy lyrical poem filled with wit, cynicism,
and psychological insights, Tchaikovsky and his librettist Konstantin
Shilovsky reduced the work to intimate scenes focused directly on their
principal characters. In both versions, however, the story is set at a time
when rank and status mattered, when women were essentially powerless. Eugene
Onegin, the eponymous protagonist (one can’t call him a hero) of the
work, is the wealthy neighbor of the widow Larina and her young daughters, Olga
and Tatiana. Onegin, who has wandered the world, lives the dissolute life of a
Byronic Don Juan, and carries himself with the aristocratic mien of Jane
Austen’s Mr. D’Arcy, is introduced to the Larin household by the
poet Lensky, in love with Olga. The three woman, attended by a nanny, live as
did Elizabeth Bennett, a modest country life. But in this story, it takes only
a glance for young Tatiana to fall in love with the elegant Onegin. The same
night, unable to sleep, overflowing with passion and impetuosity, she writes a
letter to Onegin offering him her heart.
When the two meet the next morning Onegin honorably, but coldly returns the
humiliated girl’s letter and rejects her love. Later, bored at a local
ball, he flirts with Olga and incenses Lensky to the point where the poet
challenges him to a duel Lensky is killed and Onegin returns to his aimless
wandering life. When, in Act 3 Onegin and Tatiana meet again, she is the wife
of a prince. Now it is Onegin who will write a letter and plead for love.
Tatiana first upbraids him for his past cruelty, then confesses that she still
loves him. But refusing to renounce her vows, she leaves him alone to his
despair. Is this a story of payback, as one reviewer described it? Is it about
class and caste? Is it about a country girl’s solid values, set against
the nihilism of a sybaritic life? Or does it reflect as many Pushkin scholars
believe, the battles raging within Pushkin himself? It should not be surprising
to find new interpretations of the work.
Though not a cast well-known to American opera goers, Los Angeles assembled
four stellar principals with knowledge of the language and familiarity with
their roles, which always brings a a sense of ease to a production. Baritone
Dalibor Jenis was a full voiced, if somewhat stiffly mannered Onegin, until the
last scene when rejected by Tatiana, jacketless and unkempt, he seemed to me a
maddened Don Jose. Oksana Dyka’s role as Tatiana took her in an opposite
emotional direction. In voice and manner she made the transition from love
starved teen ager to mature woman convincingly. I loved tenor Vsevolod
Grivnov’s ringing top voice as Lensky’s but sometimes I think I
love every tenor as Lensky. Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk sang Olga, and
Margaret Thompson, her mother, Larina with assurance and ease. There were three
young American artists in the cast. Ronnita Nicole Miller as Filipievna, the
nanny, has a rich voice wonderfully under control. James Cresswell sang Prince
Gremin’s aria with magnificent sonority and hit the low notes, but still
lacks that “innerness” that brings subtlety and shading. Keith
Jameson was a silky voiced Trinquet.
Dalibor Jenis as Onegin and Oksana Dyka as Tatiana
In the emotion-filled dramatic scenes that Tchaikovsky set, not only the
characters, but his music speak directly to our hearts. Conductor James Conlon
led the orchestra in a pulsing, radiant performance.
Pimlott’s intelligent production deserves a review of its own despite
some incomprehensible stagings: why Tatiana writes a letter bursting with
passion while bent over on the floor, I’ll never know. And why the
glittering third act “polonaise” is performed before a scrim
depicting death, remains a mystery to me. Suffice it now to say that with this
production Pimlott introduces us to Pushkin’s narrative viewpoint. Aided
by Antony McDonald’s sometimes outlandish costumes and Peter
Mumford’s always dramatic lighting, he gives us something of
Pushkin’s distant view of his characters by staging the action as though
painterly images set within a frame.
One last word about Tchaikovsky’s music. Tatiana, Lensky, Gremin and
Onegin have the four great arias of this opera. Leaving the theater, I could
recall snatches of the first three, all of which declare love, but not of
Onegin’s. His is the one about rejection.
And one other last word to thank Placido Domingo and the Opera Company for
including a touching tribute to Salvatore Licitra in its program.