Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
02 Feb 2012
Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent revival of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte offered a production with vocal pairs carefully matched and dramatic representation expressing the varying shades of Mozart’s score.
Tamino and Pamina, the pair who must undergo separately tests of purification,
were sung by Charles Castronovo (debut) and Nicole Cabell. The Queen of the
Night, mother of Pamina, featured Audrey Luna (debut) and Evan Boyer assumed
the role of Sarastro, since Günter Groissböck was announced as indisposed for
the performance reviewed. Stéphane Degout (debut) and Jennifer Jakob were a
musical and dramatic delight as Papageno and Papagena. Sir Andrew Davis
conducted with attention to nuance while maintaining always a sense of the
whole. During the overture Davis encouraged a terse interplay among the strings
with a measured drive forward. Pauses were effective at transitional moments
just as shifting tempos were integrated to give significant shaping to the
The three ladies of the Queen of the Night acted and sang as a splendid
trio. Once Tamino’s calls for help prompt their arrival and slaughter of the
serpent pursuing him, the ladies moved in unison yet each doted individually
over the unconscious hero. Elisabeth Meister as the First Lady led the ensemble
with her focused soprano binding the vocal line as she encouraged a report to
the Queen of the Night. Cecelia Hall and Katherine Lerner were equally
entertaining in their attempts to remain vocally and physically in the presence
of Tamino. When the latter awakens, he is met of course by Papageno who accepts
credit for having delivered the hero from danger. In his introductory aria,
“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” [“I am indeed the birdcatcher”], and
ensuing dialogue Stéphane Degout combined a lyrical confidence with delightful
swagger in acknowledging the unfounded recognition. As his discussion with
Tamino is interrupted and punished, when the three ladies returned, Degout’s
Papageno displayed his protests with convincing pantomime. In control of the
stage once again, the three ladies present Tamino with a portrait of Pamina. In
reacting to the portrait Castronovo’s performance of “Dies Bildnis ist
bezaubernd schön” [“This portrait is magically beautiful”] displays
lyrical heft and beauty of tone while some of the louder pitches could be
rounded or softened to express the magical attraction. The entrance of the
Queen of the Night and her first bravura aria provided Ms. Luna with
opportunities to show her vocal facility [“O zittre nicht, mein lieber
Sohn” (“O do not tremble, my dear son!”)]. Luna’s dramatic high notes
on “Ach helft!” [“Oh help!”] were especially effective, these being
followed by practiced runs in the famous coloratura passages. After
Tamino and Papageno receive their magical instruments, flute and glockenspiel,
from the ladies, they are instructed to follow the lead of the three
Knaben [“youths”] to find the path to Pamina and rescue her from
the palace of Sarastro.
Nicole Cabell as Pamina
At the first appearance of Pamina under the guard of Monostratos, Nicole
Cabell projected a noble demeanor on lines such as “Der Tod macht mich nicht
beben” [“Death does not make me quake”]. In the ensuing duet with
Papageno, “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen” [“For men who truly sense
love”], Ms. Cabell sang expressive, arching lines while Degout truly came
into his own with a superbly resonant tone and appropriate legato. In
the following scene Tamino searches for the entrance to Sarastro’s palace, in
order to confront the alleged captor, just as Papageno leads Pamina in search
of the flute’s response. Ms. Cabell’s encouragement to speak only the truth
(“die Wahrheit”) rang out in pure high tones in preparation for the
entrance of Sarastro. Mr. Boyer’s assumption of this role communicates the
requisite weight of authority, and his distinctive and well developed low
register contributes to a seamless vocal technique. His dramatic approach might
be enhanced at this point in the action in order to signal the gravity of the
Preparatory ceremony and eighteenth-century dress are emphasized in this
production at the start of Act Two as both Pamina and Tamino are given
instruction toward their trials of purification. Mr. Boyer’s Sarastro and the
chorus assumed here solemn tones in keeping with the following ritual scenes.
The interplay of power between the Queen and Sarastro focuses now on Pamina.
Ms. Luna projected accelerating coloratura intensity in her aria
“Der Hölle Rache” [“The wrath of Hell”] as she encouraged her daughter
to kill Sarastro. Mr. Boyer’s subsequent rendition of “In diesen heil’gen
Hallen” [“In these hallowed halls”] displayed excellent breath control
with rounded bass emphasis fully audible. The final two highlights of this act
belonged indeed to Ms. Cabell and Mr. Degout. Pamina’s “Ach, ich
fühl’s” [“O, I feel it”] in response to Tamino’s enforced silence
was performed with emotional commitment, skillful diminuendo, and further vocal
decorations emphasizing the heroine’s plight. In Papageno’s “Ein Mädchen
oder Weibchen” [“A maiden or a wife”] Degout acted and sang with genuine
ardor, while he climbed onto the stage following his search through the aisles
of the audience. In this scene Degout captured the essence of both the
character and the music as he embellished his yearning lines with tasteful
appoggiatura. In keeping with this performance Papagena was a fitting
Scene from The Magic Flute