Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
17 Feb 2012
The Charterhouse of Parma in Marseille
Henri Sauguet is not entirely unknown in opera circles — divas Regine Crespin, Felicity Lott, Nathalie Dessay and Leontyne Price have included his arias in their solo albums. Plus there is a recording of his 1954 opera-comique Les Caprices de Marianne.
These days at least three (Milhaud, Poulenc, Honegger) of the famous les six are still quite recognizable names. But in Paris during the musically vibrant 1920’s and 30‘s Henri Sauguet of les trois (a group that promoted les six, Eric Satie and themselves) was a quite well known name as well. Put all that musical baggage on top of an essentially Gounod sensibility and you have a good idea of the Sauguet poetic. At least operatically.
Both Stendhal and Sauguet claim to like simple art hidden in complex language. So Sauguet took on Stendhal’s difficult novel La Chartreuse de Parme to make it into a simple opera and just now the Opéra de Marseille resurrected this piece after 62 years of oblivion and made it a plausible candidate to enter the repertoire.
To a man the audience in Marseille will have read Stendhal’s novel, the story of a very complicated young man too much loved in too many ways by his very complicated aunt. He finally finds what he believes is love (though fortunately it is impossible love otherwise he would not have known what it was). The Church gets involved too.
It is a quite vivid work of fiction, thus every one of us at these Marseille performances intimately knew the cast of characters and voilà there they were! The real Fabrice in the person of tenor Sébastien Guèze and the equally real Duchess of Sanseverina in the person of mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch.
In the novel Fabrice has affairs with first an actress and then an opera singer (neither profession known for depth of personal character) before he finally succumbs to an infatuation with an adolescent girl, Clélia Conti, the only one of his lovers to make it into the opera. And there she was — soprano Nathalie Manfrino! Casting so perfect it was fiction itself.
Though baritone Nicolas Cavallier made a plausible Comte Mosca and baritone Jacques Calatatud made a good Barbone (the guard Fabrice beats up) the balance of the casting disappointed, particularly bass Jean-Phillippe Lafont as an uncomfortable, harsh, cruel General Conti rather than Stendhal’s very complicated courtier and caring father.
Neither Ludovic nor Theodolinde, tenor Eric Huchet and mezzo Sophie Pondjiclis had the physical or vocal edge to capture Stendhal’s vividly if minimally drawn characters that color Fabrice’s escapades in Bologna. Sauguet’s opera renders them as buffo relief rather than as Stendhal’s plot facilitators who just happen to be of impressive character.
But that is the novel. It will have been a daunting task for Sauguet and his librettist Armand Lunel to reduce a famous six hundred page novel to a little (by comparison) theater piece, and to musically rather than narratively structure its scenes. They and the Opéra de Marseille actually succeeded fairly well in giving a taste, albeit a clumsy one, of Stendhal’s novel. There were the painful omissions, like the actress and the opera singer, and the far more painful reordering and recasting of Stendhal’s episodes to arrive at a convincing dramatic process.
But succeed they did. In Act I we had to come to grips with these plot changes, and accommodate an unfamiliar musical language. Very successful persuasion came from the pit, in the scope and sweep of big, very big and very sophisticated music that conductor Lawrence Foster drew out of his very willing orchestra. Mo. Foster has just been named music director of the Opéra de Marseille and has made a huge first impression negotiating this bit of post-Sentimentalism, not similar but so comparable to Cilea and Giordano in its over-the-top and distinctly over ripe Romanticism.
Marseille performed acts one and two as the first half of the performance, glossing over the crucial time lapse and change of place that transpires between the acts — a mistake because it kept us from digesting the dramatic and musical complexities that occur in a box at a La Scala performance. As it was the first half was dwarfed by the ball at the Sanseverina palace in Parma that was hugely long and complex, and musically handled so deftly by Sauguet that it resembled the best of Tchaikowsky’s ballets.
Acts three and four brought the lyric gifts of Sauguet to the fore. They are considerable. There was scene after scene of dizzying arias and duets for Fabrice and Clélia. Sauguet’s vocal lines are florid and elaborate, not with ornamentation but complex cantabile melodies that seem rarely to move stepwise, and often move in fifths, sixths, even octaves! These arias and scenes are quite extended (like Stendhal’s interminable accounts of the slightest movement of mind and soul of his protagonists), and in high tessatura.
Both young Sébastien Guèze and Nathalie Manfrino made it to the end. It was herculean. While Mlle. Manfrino did show some fatigue, she never faltered in a convincing delivery of Sauguet’s vocal line. Mr. Gueze has mastered a falsetto that he implemented from time to time, particularly at his death (without love Fabrice simply wasted away), when perhaps a full voice pianissimo would have been more effective. But after three hours at full forte, in fact a brilliant vocal and histrionic performance, this observation is purely gratuitous.
The opera was staged by Renée Auphan, the former general director of the Opéra de Marseille. To the great enrichment of operatic France she was the instigator of several equally interesting revivals during her reign. The production and staging was adequate at best. Though of period credibility the unfortunate costumes by Katia Duflot read as haute couture rather than as character completion. Sauguet’s opera could have profited from a more sophisticated production.
Click here for an English translation of the novel.