08 Feb 2012
Der Rosenkavalier, ENO
English National Opera’s revival of Richard Strauss’s fin de siècle Figaro is a heart-warming treat for a cold winter’s night.
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.
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?
English National Opera’s revival of Richard Strauss’s fin de siècle Figaro is a heart-warming treat for a cold winter’s night.
Director David McVicar’s self-designed staging perfectly balances detail and spaciousness — an accomplished feat and a productive one; although the score is complex and infinitely nuanced, McVicar has been able to identify which details to foreground visually and which to allow to reside in the musical foundations. So, there is finely judged attention to detail but the resulting drama is not fussy or cluttered.
Amanda Roocroft as The Feldmarschallin
A single backdrop suffices: a curving Regency interior, slightly past its prime but still offering elegant evidence of the stylish sophistications of yesteryear — much like the Marschallin herself. Gilt and bronze drapes, curling creepers and cobwebbed chandeliers create a fairy-tale otherworldliness, and this is enhanced by Paule Constable’s clever lighting which, evoking subdued candlelight — the front of stage decked with row of crumbling candles (which Valzacchi snappily switches on at the start of the Mariendal scene) — establishes an ethereal distance. And, in the fading light of Act 1, a deepening, looming shadow of the Marschallin provides a visual echo of the ‘former’ self whose passing she laments.
McVicar’s direction judiciously mixes dense and intricate movements — as during the spooking of Ochs in the inn scene, when tumblers and goblins cavort and cartwheel wildly across the stage — with gentler gestures which flow as organically as Strauss’s score, particularly in the closing moments. The extremes of the wide stage are deployed to depict the emotional distance between characters; and at the close to emphasise the Marschallin’s isolation from the young lovers.
Sophie Bevan as Sophie
John Tomlinson’s Baron Ochs of Lerchenau is a Falstaffian scally-wag, with all the bluff, swagger and ultimately forgivable self-interest of his Shakespearean predecessor. We may cringe at his hapless fumbling after any helpless female within arm’s reach; find his empty boasts and groundless vanity infuriating and his class-obsessed condescension distasteful. But, his candid self-knowledge and readiness to greet defeat with big-hearted generosity win our tolerance, tenderness and even, in the end, our pity. This is a comic turn par excellence, one which fortunately does not lapse into caricature; and, the humour is never achieved at the expense of musical control or accuracy. A master of crisp diction, Tomlinson’s every syllable is crystal clear. Weighty but flexible, his bright, gleaming tone is a joy, and it loses none of its gloss as he descends to the depths of his register. It may be a little over-strained at the top, but who cares? This Ochs relishes the amorous games even if they end in a rout; and Tomlinson’s complete delight in the theatrical and musical world which encompasses him is equally apparent.
As the elegant Marschallin, Amanda Roocroft is regal of bearing and radiant of voice; if she doesn’t quite have the velvety roundness of the ideal Straussian heroine, she uses light and shade to movingly reveal the Marschallin’s insecurities, the piano reflections of her Act 1 monologue wistfully conveying muted resignation.
The lustrous spin of Sophie Bevan’s response to the bestowal of the silver rose would melt the shining breastplate of even the most cold-blooded Rosenkavalier. Bevan captures both the tempestuousness of the feisty adolescent and the nascent serenity of the mature woman within. This Sophie is no slight soubrette; and in the Act 3 trio the Marschallin clearly recognises her rival’s powerful charm and determined will.
Sarah Connolly inhabits the eponymous envoy’s breeches with total authority, utterly convincing as the excitable young romancer who learns that the path of true love never quite runs smooth. By turns ebullient and grave, bullish and wistful, Connolly has unostentatiously mastered every nuance of character, even adopting a convincing rural brogue for the Act 3 deception of Ochs. Particularly resounding in her upper register, Connolly’s doubtful hesitation when forced to choose between past and future loves is painfully touching.
Adrian Thompson as Valzacchi, Sir John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs and Madeleine Shaw as Annina
A master of comic timing, Andrew Shore is typically impressive as the exasperated Herr von Faninal; Shore alone matched Tomlinson in his use of the text, though as his partner-in crime, Annina, Madeleine Shaw is confident and vocally arresting. And, there are many fine performances from those taking the smaller character roles, including Jennifer Rhys-Davis as Sophie’s chaperone — her urgent proddings with her fan keep her young charge firmly in line during her conversation with the rose bearer — and Gwyn Hughes Jones who produces a stunning Italianate glean as he entertains the Marschallin in Act 1 (and whose petulant flounce and pout indicates his irritation when his star turn is prematurely halted!). Ericson Mitchell is rather older than the prepubescent boys who are usually cast to play Mohammed, the Marschallin’s page, and I’m not sure his crafty retrieval of Sophie’s handkerchief and bold final bow to the audience really captures the cheeky breeziness of the closing bars of the score; but his presence does add an edgy touch of adolescent knowingness to the goings-on in the Marschallin’s boudoir.
Edward Gardner's reading of Strauss’s wonderfully evocative score is expansive and luscious. He creates an opulent but airy bed of sound through which a multitude of minutiae effortlessly reveal themselves: sinuous, seductive clarinet coils; impassioned horn commentaries; rising celli climaxes. Tempi are at times quite idiosyncratic — the final trio is slow, and Och’s waltzes wistfully elongated — but this complements, rather than negates, the dramatic flow. This is superb orchestral playing with scarcely a note out-of-place or ill-judged; the precision of chamber music within a vast orchestral canvas.