Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
28 Nov 2011
François Couperin by Florilegium, Wigmore Hall
Although François Couperin won his reputation as an esteemed composer at the
ostentatious and vainglorious court of Versailles, under the patronage of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, his work is often surprisingly discreet and intimate.
These qualities were affectingly demonstrated during this wonderfully
tender performance by Florilegum of secular instrumental and sacred vocal
music, compositions which unite the best of contemporary French and Italian
Couperin was born in 1688 in Paris, the son of Charles Couperin, the
organist St Gervais in Paris. On his father’s premature death, the
organist position passed to Lalande, but François, an early musical genius, was
already deputising for Lalande at the age of ten, and on his 18th birthday he
officially inherited his father’s previous position. Lalande praised the young
man’s innovative 1690 collection of Pièces d’orgue as
“worthy of being given to the public” and helped to establish him
as a Court organist in 1693. In 1700 Couperin acquired the younger
D’Anglebert’s position as harpsichordist at Versailles.
He amassed a notable quantity of superlative harpsichord pieces, which began
appearing in elegantly engraved editions in 1713, following other noteworthy
collections by Rameau and Dandrieu; but, ever the individualist, Couperin chose
to group his pièces into ordres rather than suites, and relied much less on
dance movements than his contemporaries, preferring the freer and more
evocative pièces de caractère.
In his publications of the early 1720s he offered a wide variety of ways in
which the French and Italian styles might be united. As Richard Langham
Smith’s eloquent, informative programme notes state, the works grouped
under the title of Les Nations were “written in the style of
Corelli”; the composer had been “charmed by the sonatas of Corelli,
whose works I shall love as long as I shall live, just as I do the works of
Monsieur de Lully”.
Les Nations is the title under which Couperin published a
collection of four large-scale sonatas; Florilegum presented two – the
earliest of the ordres composed for chamber consort – La
Françoise and L’Espagnole. Director Ashley Solomon, fellow
traverse flautist Andrew Crawford, and violinists Bojan Cici and Tuomo Suni
were expressively supported by Emilia Benjamin’s viola da gamba, David
Miller’s theorbo and the delectable harpsichord playing of Terence
Charistan. The ensemble relished Couperin’s luscious timbres and colours,
responding naturally to the considerable rhetoric of the small dance forms,
exploiting contrast and delighting in the piquant expressive dissonances.
In the slower, more intricate movements, as in the ‘Sarabande’
of L’Espagnole, the meticulous attention to ornament and detail
was impressive, although such details were never allowed to disrupt the
graceful melodic line. String and woodwind articulation in the more energetic
dances was bracingly crisp and fresh; repetitions were constantly
re-invigorated. Rapid passage work in ‘La Gigue’ from La
Françoise was sharply articulated. Despite the fact that these
interpretations were clearly honed to perfection, there was a surprising sense
of spontaneity, as if the reading was unfolding in real time.
Florilegium [Photo by Amit Lennon]
The instrumentalists were joined by sopranos Dame Emma Kirkby and Elin
Manahan Thomas in Couperin’s captivating Leçons de Ténèbres, extremely
beautiful and genuinely spiritual music for ecclesiastical use. Couperin’s
interest in the Italian style, as represented by Carissimi and Charpentier,
influenced his sacred vocal music, particularly his motets, versets and leçons
de ténèbres, and the result of this stylistic diffusion is enchantingly
presented in the Leçons.
In the Tenebrae service, psalms are sung, interspersed with the
text from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. In Couperin’s setting we
are aware of delicate and deliberate crafting: each of the responsaries is
preceded by a huge musical ‘capital letter’ much like the way the
first letter of a Hebrew psalm is set to a long melisma – as Langham
Smith describes “a musical equivalent to an ornamented manuscript with
elaborately gilded capital letters.”
The two soloists brought their own strengths to the delivery of the text.
Thomas, alert and energised, using the voice to thrill and excite; Kirkby
effortlessly shaped individual phrases into affecting larger units, creating
heart-rending melodic shapes and inflecting the text with human sentiment.
Soaring melodic arches and effortlessly gilded ornaments evoked cathedral
realms. For Kirkby aficionados, vocal purity and beauty is taken for granted,
but she also exhibited a real sense of the architectural splendour of these
Thomas’s pronunciation of the Latin text was idiomatically French in
inflection, as it would have been performed at the time. Her ornamentation was
superb; she produced a shimmering beauty which invigorated the sacred text with
exotic nuance. In the third lesson, the intertwined soaring voices evoked
aspiring gothic cathedral arches. The accompaniment was flexible and alert,
sensitive to nuance and creating a real sense of intimacy. The repeated
refrain, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad Dominium Deum tuum”,
(Jerusalem, return thee to the Lord, thy God) both united the various lessons,
and provided variety and gradation.
These are pieces of heavenly exquisiteness, designed to inspire piety
through their sheer beauty. Whatever one’s religious allegiances and
affiliations, this recital inspired ‘devotion’ through the
performers’ absolute commitment to magnificent splendour and nuanced,
expressive inflection, perfectly assimilating the sacred and the secular.