Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
23 Dec 2011
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera House
Perhaps it’s no accident that Graham Vick’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg returns to the Royal Opera House for the Christmas season. Red, green, gold, sumptuous colours that warm a long, grey evening.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a comedy and here’s it’s
presented as the ultimate up market Xmas show. It’s extremely enjoyable, and
an ideal introduction to the opera experience. Richard Wagner, though, gets
Sir John Tomlinson is a definite reason for catching this revival. The days
when he could sing Hans Sachs are past, but he creates an unusually vivid Veit
Pogner. Tomlinson plays Pogner powerfully, as if he was a former Sachs, whose
reasons for committing his daughter to this bizarre marriage make sense. He’s
dedicating his daughter to art, not too shabby politics. Luckily for him, and
for Eva, Walter von Stolzing arrives in the nick of time. Indeed, Beckmesser
very nearly persuades the Meistersingers to drive Walter out of town. Things
could so easily have turned out quite differently. Die Meistersinger von
Nürnberg may be comic, but it evolves against a background of tension. At
any moment anarchy could breakout. Unless the Meistersingers adapt, they might
Wagner builds tension into the music. The Meistersingers sing at cross
purposes, and in the riot scene, the turbulence of the chorus evokes the
violence which comes with all revolution. That’s why the Night Watchman sings
“bewahrt euch vor Gespenstern und Spuk, dass kein böser Geist eu’r Seel’
beruck’!” The music for the apprentice boys is energetic, a warning for
those who remember Wagner’s protosocialism. This time, however, no dangerous
ideas. We’re treated to a good natured Meistersinger, where the
apprentices dance with little vigour, and the blows Sachs throws at David have
no menace. Antonio Pappano received the longest applause of all on the first
night,. Most audiences can relate better to joyful Romaticism in music better
than to Wagner-on-edge, so it’s understandable. He clearly enjoys the
life-affirming elements in this opera, which come over well. Christmas is not
the right time for radical ideas, and this is not a production that would
Graham Vicks’s riot scene is classic because it’s so well imagined. The
townsfolk pop out of windows and hang precariously upside down over the stage.
One man looks like he’s about to lose his footing (this happened in earlier
productions, so it was planned) In their nightshirts the townsfolk look like
escapees from an asylum, a good idea but not developed. The Festweise
scene is masterfully blocked, so each guild is clearly defined. I liked
the acrobats in the background, too. But these scenes aren’t for
entertainment but emphasize the traumas in Nürnberg’s past.
Because John Tomlinson so dominates the first Act, Wolfgang Koch’s Hans
Sach might be overlooked, but Koch understands the role. Sachs is an observer,
who stands apart from the crowd, and who thinks before he acts. Koch’s Sachs
is sung with sensitivity, and would be very effective in a more perceptive
production which focuses on Sachs and not the scenery. Koch looks and sounds
younger than the other Meistersingers and is rather more lyrical than Simon
O’Neill’s Walther von Stolzing who is more hoch dramatisch than
true Heldentenor. This was the best performance I’ve ever heard from
O’Neill, and he was good, but it’s a part better suited to a more luminous
timbre. O’Neill was, however, a good match for Emma Bell’s Eva, joyfully
created though perhaps more Italianate than Wagnerian. In a cheerful,
non-idiomatic production like this, it didn’t matter, and they conveyed the
story. Popular favourite, Toby Spence, sang a very good David, but he’s more
upper class than roustabout.
(L-R) Peter Coleman-Wright as Beckmesser, Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs, Heather Shipp as Magdalene, Simon O’Neill as Walther and Emma Bell as Eva
It was good to see many teenagers in the audience, another good reason for
having a show like this in holiday time. Last week, David Chandler took his
daughter to Kurt Weill’s Magical Night at the Linbury, (reviewed
here) and she was ecstatic. We can give kids toys anytime, but the gift of
a magical experience is beyond compare. And the same goes for adults, new to
opera. This Meistersinger may not tell us much about the opera or
about Wagner, but it’s an excellent night out.