Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
25 Jan 2012
Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall
Hugo Wolf is a hard sell. Technical expertise isn't enough. The secret to singing Wolf is expressing the unique personality in each song. Wolf, perhaps more than any other composer, creates miniatures that open out into mini-operas when performed well.
Christoph Prégardien started off the Wigmore Hall’s new series of Hugo Wolf Songbooks with Lieder to texts by Mörike and Goethe. Prégardien is one of the best Wolf singers around, with the right combination of timbre and individuality. At his best, he’s brilliant. For whatever reason, on this occasion, he wasn’t his usual self, the voice sounding tired and occluded. Nonetheless, he has years of experience to fall back on. Intelligent phrasing, the right emphases in the right places, accurate intonation. Yet not the luminous, transcendent tones he’s capable of, which lift his performance way above most everyone else. Still, proof that mastery of technique pulls one through. His Feuerreiter was suitably dramatic, though not quite at the demonic level he and some can reach. But he brought real drama to Ritter Kurts Brautfahrt, a strophic ballad that can fall flat in the wrong hands (voice). In Sankt Nepomuks Vorabend, one could hear glimmers of Prégardien’s natural translucence, reflecting his youth as a choirboy. “Lichtlein, schwimmen auf dem Strom”
Listen to Prégardien’s most recent recording of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch which came out in Spring 2011 on the small label Channel Classics. The soprano on that disc was Julia Kleiter, a fellow Limburger, good for the ensemble work so crucial to the Italian Songbook. But the Mörike and Goethe are much more sharply defined and need great personality. When we heard that Kelier was being replaced ar minimal notice by a singer born in 1990, our hearts dropped. What could any singer that young bring to Hugo Wolf?
Yet Anna Lucia Richter turned out to be the surprise of the evening. Obviously someone aged 21 isn’t going to sound polished but Richter turned her youth to advantage. In Nixe Binsefuß, bright, almost staccato notes sparkle like sharp icicles. But this Nixe is a water sprite with attitude who would like to slash the fisherman’s nets and liberate the fish. Richter’s voice is pure, but has a wild edge totally in keeping with the Nixe’s free spirited anarchy. Then, when she sings about the fisherman’s daughter, her voice warms. Icicles no more! And so the Nixe flies away as the day breaks.
It’s difficult to combine the technical demands of Elfenlied with a true sense of innocence, but Richter manages well. Her elf is genuinely naïve and she describes his accident with droll humour. Similarly, Richter’s Begegnung is turbulent, like the wind and the emotions the young girl experiences. I don’t know how long Richter had to prepare, as the programme was printed before she was hired, but she threw herself into the songs with unselfconscious enthusiasm, so they come over extremely well.
No-one at Richter’s age, or even ten years older, is going to have finesse, but that will come with experience. It’s much better that a singer starts out with enthusiasm, and engages with what she sings, as Richter does. Her voice has colour and range, so she has plenty of potential. Definitely someone to follow. She has dramatic instincts, leaping into some songs in the second part of the programme as an opera singer might, so she will have many options. She’s still studying at the Cologne Conservatory but is scheduled to join the company of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf from 2012-13. She’s also worked with Prégardien before and recorded Schumann with him.
“We’d better give the poor girl some help” said Julius Drake before the encore (a Mendelssohn duet). He played gloriously, but part of a song pianist’s brief is to work with singers, especially the young.