Recently in Performances
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.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
25 Jan 2012
Charpentier and Purcell by Early Opera Company
Composed during the spring hunting season of 1684, for a patron and performance venue unknown, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s brief six-scene Opera de Chasse (‘Hunting Opera’), Actéon, has remained seldom performed and something of a mystery.
Based upon a story from Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, this ‘pastorale en musique’ tells the tragic tale
of the unfortunate eponymous hunter who unwittingly stumbles upon the secluded
bathing haunt of the goddess Diana and her attendant nymphs. He attempts to
conceal himself but to no avail, and he is punished severely for his trespass
by the angry goddess. Diana transforms him into a stag and Actéon is pursued
and torn apart by his own hunting hounds.
It is a fairly lightweight piece, with some dramatic variety and pleasing
emotional contrasts; Charpentier’s score is typically elegant, with regard to
melodic phrasing, and rhythmically robust, most especially in the bucolic
scenes enlivened by dance-like instrumental forms and textures. Here, the
assembled soloists emerged from the one-per-part chorus, deftly moving to the
forestage at appropriate points, skilfully diverting and sustaining the
audience’s attention. All produced a fairly idiomatic pronunciation of the
French text; but, while a graceful phrasing of the exquisite yearning phrases
was achieved, there was little attempt to render the authentic ornamentation of
the French baroque style.
Charpentier, an accomplished tenor, probably composed the title role for
himself. Here, Ed Lyon, singing confidently and with obvious commitment to the
drama, produced a beautiful youthful tenor, surely sufficiently warm and tender
to melt even the most glacial goddess’s heart. If Lyon’s upper register
sometimes lacked a little weight and substance, the touching vulnerability of
his tender pianissimo in his transformation scene more than
compensated; and, he exalted Diana’s loveliness with wondrous awe. His
transformation aria was followed by a trio sonata for violins and continuo,
exquisitely played by violinists Kati Debretzeni and Huw Daniel supported by
Reiko Ichise on viola da gamba.
As Diana, Claire Booth sang with focus and clarity, but while she was
admirably reliable in pitch and tone, at times she seemed a little too forceful
for the role. The heart-rending action was rudely interrupted by the
interjections of Juno (Hilary Summers), who confesses that, in a jealous rage
aroused by Jupiter’s infidelity, she has brought about Actéon’s death.
Summers enjoyed the extravagant dramatic aspects of the part, projecting
powerfully from the Wigmore Hall balcony; but, her tone was rather strident and
somewhat undid the mood of elegiac pathos.
Ciara Hendrick and Elizabeth Weisberg completed the line up of competent
soloists; the seven singers joined to form a chorus characterised by neat
ensemble, and clean, airy textures. After Actéon’s death, his hunting
companions lament “the beautiful days cut short” of this invincible hero
“in the springtime of his age”; unfortunately some poor flute intonation
unsettled the overall tuning at the close of what had been an appealing and
convincing performance of an attractive and stirring score.
Charpentier’s Actéon is an unusual yet complementary pairing
with Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, the latter being inconveniently
succinct and requiring a partnering work. Yet, Charpentier’s score preceded
Purcell’s by only five years, and there are many affinities between them, not
only of musical style - Purcell’s dance-textures and rhythms often sound
distinctly French - but also of situation and mythic context, for
Charpentier’s narrative is also related by one of Dido’s ladies-in-waiting
in the aria “Oft she visits this lone mountain” in Purcell’s opera.
If Charpentier’s pastoral drama is ultimately rather frivolous, Purcell
inspires considerably greater emotional weight and intensity. With Anna
Stephany, the advertised Dido, indisposed, Susan Bickley stepped into the role
at short notice, presenting a controlled, poised interpretation of regal
bearing, betrayal and distress. If her early arias seemed overly guarded and
reserved, a little lacking in affective gesture, by the closing lament her
noble dignity was firmly established and her portrayal deeply poignant.
Claire Booth was a deliciously rich-toned Belinda, and Hilary Summers’
vocal exaggerations were more apt for the disconcerting devilry of the
Sorceress. As Aeneas, baritone Marcus Farnsworth, made as much as is possible
of the slim part.
Christian Curmyn led the ensemble in typically controlled and elegant
fashion; perhaps his rendering was a little too restrained, more suitable for
Charpentier’s relatively inconsequential drama, than for the emotional peaks
and troughs of Purcell. There was grace and discipline, but few musical or
dramatic surprises; in the Purcell especially, the emotional peaks were
somewhat muted, the protagonists a little too self-possessed. Even in the
Charpentier the dances lacked spontaneity; one longed for a looser rein which
would permit the instrumental players the necessary freedom to inject an
improvisatory quality. Purcell’s drunken sailors and grotesque witches were
Although we don’t know the circumstances and venue of the first
performance of Charpentier’s Actéon, its brevity and intimacy, and
the courtly ambience of the French baroque idiom, suggest a private setting.
Similarly, while it was once firmly believed that Purcell’s opera was
composed for girls’ school in Chelsea run by dancing master Josiah Priest,
critics now question whether it was not in fact modelled upon John Blow’s
masque, Venus and Adonis, and first performed at court in the 1680s.
Whatever their origins, both works are ideally suited to the intimacy of the
Wigmore Hall, and the Early Opera Group’s thoughtful, if rather conservative,
performance, heightened the grace and eloquence of these elegant, affecting