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.
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