Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
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.