Recently in Performances
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.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
20 Feb 2012
The Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition: Showcase Concert
Inaugurated in 1995, the Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition is a triennial competition, held in the National Concert Hall in Dublin, which takes place over a week in January.
The next competition will occur in January 2013, and this varied recital featured the three main prize winners from 2010, demonstrating their talents in a range of contrasting idioms and genres.
Established by Dr Veronica Dunne, Ireland’s ‘Grande Dame’ of singing, the Competition is designed to give young Irish singers the opportunity to complete on an international platform; it is, however, open to other nationals who are studying in the UK, and in this recital the Irish tenor Dean Power (3rd prize in 2010) was partnered by two South African sopranos, Pumeza Matshikiza and Sarah-Jane Brandon (1st and 2nd prize respectively).
We began with lieder: five songs from Schumann’s Myrthen Op.25, which the composer presented to his wife, Clara, as a wedding present. There was certainly much passion in the opening ‘Widmung’ (‘Dedication’), performed by Pumeza Matshikiza with ardent intensity; hers is a distinctive timbre, slightly burnished of tone and richly textured. Matshikiza certainly made an immediate impact on the audience; but, I found her undoubtedly striking voice slightly insistent, even overwhelming, in the intimate venue, and would have welcomed a little more dynamic ‘light and shade’. ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ (‘You are like a flower’) was more poised, but again sensuous passion threatened to outweigh the innocence of the image of the beloved, ‘like a flower/ So sweet and fair and pure’.
A more delicate charm was conjured by Sarah-Jane Brandon in ‘Der Nussbaum’ (‘The walnut tree’); a gentle pianissimo conveyed the whispering of the blossoms and a well-judged rubato suggested the tentative expectancy of the young maiden dreamily listening to rustling tree, yearning and hoping for love. Brandon sustained and projected the melody in ‘Lied der Suleika’ (‘Suleika’s song’), although both songs would have benefited from a few more consonants.
Although a little stiff of manner, Dean Power showed much sensitivity to the text in ‘Die Lotusblume’ (‘The lotus flower’), tenderly shaping the closing image as “sie freundlich/ Ihr frommes Blumengesicht” (“she gladly unveils/ Her innocent flower-like face”). And, there was thoughtful phrasing from both singers in Power’s duet with Matshikiza, ‘In der Nacht’ (‘In the night’).
An operatic sequence followed, beginning with a magisterial ‘Come Scoglio’ from Brandon, demonstrating even tone throughout her range, a particular animation in the upper register, and an ability to negotiate the awkward leaps with sureness. We stayed with Così for Power’s rendering of ‘Tradito, schernito’: the recitative was intelligently delivered and again Power revealed a good sense of melodic line, but his tone is rather unyielding, at times sounding somewhat strained and taut. This was more of a problem in ‘Ecco ridento in cielo’ (from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia) which lacked an Italianate gleam and was rather rushed. Matshikiza was an impassioned, rapt Mimi in ‘Si. Mi chiamano Mimi’, and although her intonation was not always secure, her rich forte clearly won the audience’s heart. Most impressive of the operatic selection was Brandon’s tightly controlled Willow Song, ‘Piangea cantando’ (from Verdi’s Otello), in which the soprano demonstrated evenness of tone and used a range of vocal colours to convey the drama and emotion of the scene.
With a change of pianist — Dearbhla Collins now taking over from the first-half accompanist, Mairéad Hurley — Brandon began the second half of the recital with Richard Strauss’s Four Songs Op.27. These offered her much opportunity to exploit her warm, full tone; the recurring refrain of ‘Ruhe, mein Seele!’ (‘Calm, My Heart!’) built to a satisfying climax, while ‘Morgen!’ (‘Morning!’) was more rapturously serene. Matshikiza followed with three songs by Debussy; her vibrant lyricism was perfectly suited to ‘Nuit d’étoiles’ (‘Starry night’), and in ‘Beau Soir’ (‘Beautiful evening’) the soprano’s intimate composure conveyed the mood of dreamy serenity.
Having been awarded the Dermot Troy prize for Best Irish Singer in 2010, it was left to Power introduce a distinctly Irish flavour into the proceedings, with performances of three twentieth-century songs, beginning with Bernadette Marmion’s ‘When you are old’. Power was more relaxed here, and in Philip Martin’s ‘Be still as you are beautiful’; his characterful performance of ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’ by Hamilton Harty revealed Power to be at ease with the simple folk style, and capable of communicating the energy and vitality of the idiom.
The romantic lyricism and easy melodic charm of three songs by Roger Quilter brought the evening to a satisfying close.
Click here for a photo gallery of the participants.