Recently in Performances
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?
06 Feb 2012
L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and La Navarraise in Monte-Carlo
The magic was in the pit, not that all Monaco was not magical — on January 25 a yellow Lamborghini, a red Ferrari, a vintage Jaguar among other magnificent machines stood before the entrance to Monte-Carlo’s resplendent Casino cum transplendent 500-seat opera house.
Even without this automotive hardware Monaco may still have been magical eighty-seven years ago when Maurice Ravel and Colette conjured a strange little comédie musicale, L’Enfant et les Sortileges for this very opera house. These days Colette’s singing cats, clocks, teakettles, etc., only sometimes recapture the magic that is said have surprised, puzzled and perturbed the monégasques (those rich enough to sojourn in Monaco) back in 1925.
Happily all of L’Enfant’s reputed magic was again present in the Salle Garnier, brought alive by Monaco’s fine Orchestre Philharmonique responding to the remarkable precision of narrative detail and intonation imposed by conductor Patrick Davin. Ravel’s score shone as the masterpiece of orchestral colors and musical wit that has won it huge respect and exposure in musical circles.
If you are among those who find people impersonating animals, objects or elements (there is a big piece for a soprano named “fire”) amusing this fine new production by the Opéra de Monte-Carlo’s general director Jean-Louis Grinda might have disappointed you. As it was we were not required to suspend disbelief for a second. It was the household staff of Mamam (the quite imposing Béatrice Uria-Monzon in full Coco Chanel regalia) who went to a great deal of trouble to terrorize Mamam’s little darling while Mamam went out for the evening.
This alone made the entertainment adult and saved us from having to rediscover the-child-that-is-in-all-of-us. In fact it was a pleasure to get back at the naughty little brat (convincingly portrayed by Swiss mezzo Carine Séchaye) by dreaming up mean and clever tricks. Cats were made by shadow puppetry and sung by their puppeteers, three household staff (very fine dancers) executed nifty slimy choreography (by Eugénie Andrin) that kept the torture relentless. The household maitre d’ actually appeared in the clock and the governess climbed atop the armoire to sing the Princess’ lament.
This realistic staging revealed the charm of this little story by the famously unconventional Colette and let us hear Ravel’s brilliant score with the eyes and ears of adults of presumed intelligence and wit. These attributes are in fact the magic of Colette and Ravel’s amusing trifle, not its fantastical characters. These were forty-five riveting minutes.
The French speaking audience (where were the Italians and the Russians?), obviously mature and certainly well-healed paid 15 euros per flûte de champagne at intermission where they were far more animated than at the perfunctory applause awarded the entertainment.
L’Enfant et les Sortileges is a chamber work of childish sentiment detailed by a very large orchestra. It is of ideal proportion to the Salle Garnier. Its companion piece, Massenet’s La Navarraise is an emotional blockbuster that was sonically stuffed into this intimate theater where it suffered a dismal production.
This brief piece attempts to impose the emotional force of Italian verismo onto French sentiments familiar to us through Alexander Dumas fils’ La Dame aux Camélias and Mérimée’s Carmen. The big blow, that hallmark of pristine verismo, was the gypsy girl’s suicide over the corpse of her lover. This final moment was very noisily presaged in the opening battle scene and by the challenge of her lover’s father that she match his dowry. She was then accused of treason, the tenor sang a great big aria and there was an even bigger battle scene.
Scene from L’Enfant et les Sortilèges
It would be hard for anyone to remain aloof from all this violence and maestro Davin certainly was not. He urged his orchestra to sing out full voice, and encouraged his singers to give everything they had. And they all did. We understood why this piece was once popular and no longer is. It is too loud and too short, a blatant and naive imitation of Cavalleria Rusticana by a capable composer who knew what the London public wanted back in 1895.
The Opéra de Monte-Carlo did Masennet’s little escapade full justice with French mezzo Béatrice Uria-Monzon, a famous Carmen who has essayed Tosca as well, as the Navarraise — a more ideal singer for this heroine of a verismo manqué cannot be imagined. Spanish tenor Enrique Ferrer was Araquil, her lover, negotiating the role’s high tessitura at continuous forte levels with apparent ease, adding the easy swashbuckle that cost him his life. Canadian baritone Jean-Françoise Lapointe was a dynamic lieutenant of beautiful voice, however baritone Marcel Vanaud as the father Remigio did not rise to sufficient vocal or histrionic stature to have motivated such a tragedy. Earlier in the evening Mr. Vanaud had portrayed a fine chair and a successful tree.
Scene from La Navarraise