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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.
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.’
24 Mar 2012
Florian Boesch at Wigmore Hall
The performance at the Wigmore Hall of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin by Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau was outstanding. Over several decades, I’ve heard hundreds of performances, but this was exceptionally perceptive.
This was a wholly original, perceptive reading, informed by great insight. In Die schöne Müllerin the brook speaks through the piano. A brook flows forth with force. This isn’t a pretty little Bachlein, even if the protagonist is fooled. It powers a large commercial millwheel. This master miller employs many staff, and the brook keeps them all in work. The millwheel crushes grain into flour. The brook also controls the miller lad’s mind and crushes him with overwhelming force.
From the outset, it was clear that Malcolm Martineau understood why Schubert wrote such pounding, repetitive rhythms into the piano part. They are so shocking tthat most pianists soften them to make them more “musical”, but when they’re heard with this force, you realize that the brook is a personality. That’s certainly how the miller’s lad sees it. “Vom Wasser haben wir’s gelent, vom Wasser”. Right from the start, he’s doing what the brook tells him. The energy in the piano part is compulsive rather than merely compelling, so Martineau’s approach is psychologically right. The poem, too, reflects this hard-driven quality, with words repeated at the end of sentences, for emphasis. Boesch sings them purposefully, “Das Wandern”, ““Das Wasser” and “und wandern” yet again. Piano and voice in harmony, but it’s the unison of goosestep march.
Also perceptive was the way Boesch and Martineau revealed the jarring contrasts between each song. The hard-driven march gives way to more seductive rolling patterns, then voice and piano diverge. The miller has spotted the mill. Boesch’s voice warms with hope, “War es also gemeint?”, but Martneau’s dark pedaling tells us no. “Am Feierabend” is often sung gemütlich, for the miller’s lad now feels part of a community.. But the imagery includes the millwheel, still grinding when the workers are at rest. Martineau is ferocious, for the brook is, and will become ever more jealous. Later, the young miller will obey, but for the moment, he’s still contemplating love. Significantly, the voice is relatively unaccompanied at the start of “Der Neugierige”, and Boesch’s voice finds lyrical stillness. But the brook attacks again in “Ungeduld”, with its manic pace. Seldom have these mood swings seemed so bi-polar. In “Mein!” Boesch sings as if he’s won the girl. Martineau’s playing reminds us that the brook might think quite something else. Emphatic, brutal last note, no quibbling.
Many years ago, Matthias Goerne’s first recording of Die schöne Müllerin revealed the young miller as emotionally disturbed, living in schizoid fantasy. It’s a perfectly valid interpretation, though Goerne was to adopt a more conventional but superlative approach in his recording with Christoph Eschenbach. Boesch, however, makes the young miller sympathetic. Because it’s easier to identify with a miller created with such warmth, the brook’s vindictive pursuit seems all the more tragic. Boesch’s rich timbre and faint Austrian burr makes him plausibly masculine, so the rivalry between the miller and the huntsman isn’t entirely one-sided. No less than six songs in this 20 song cycle deal with the miller, the huntsman and the girl, with music and the colour green and all that signifies. The songs were performed without a break, since they’re a last interlude, when the miller still inhabits the real world.
With the minor key “Trockne Blumen”, the young miller enters the death zone. Boesch sings quietly but it’s an unnatural calm. His last cry “Der Mai ist kommen, der Winter is aus!” was a last backwards look at happier times. Martineau makes the last chords resonate into silence. The miller will not live to see Spring. The brook now “speaks” through the text, as well as through the piano. Miller and brook are becoming one again, the miller’s soul absorbed by the brook. This is surreal, even by the Gothic norms of Romantic poetry. Boesch makes interesting connections. His hands may clasp involuntarily, but the stillness of his singing suggests quasi-religious sacrifice. Did the poet Wilhelm Müller think of pre-Christian fertility rites, or to primeval myths of female water spirits luring men to their doom? It hardly matters. Boesch’s eerie calm is disconcerting. It’s as if the miller is willingly hypnotized.
The last song, “Das Baches Weigenlied” is a lullaby but most certainly not serene or comforting. Rolling rhythms again, but now the piano part falls into gentle repose. The brook is now speaking through the voice part and through the miller. It’s not the miller who is now at peace. He’s dead. The brook has consumed him and no longer needs to rage. Schubert sets the song lyrically, but it’s the culmination of a nightmare, straight out of the aesthetic that gave rise to Erlkönig (and indeed to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) As I’ve said many times before, only the shallow hear shallow in Schubert, but it needs to be said if we are to learn from him. This recital shows us what real Lieder singing is about. It’s uncompromising psychological truth.