04 Jun 2012
Maria Padilla: Chelsea Opera Group
Donizetti’s Maria Padilla received a concert performance with the Chelsea Opera Group.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Donizetti’s Maria Padilla received a concert performance with the Chelsea Opera Group.
When Donizetti received the commission from Milan for a new opera he was the toast of Vienna and Paris. He had something of a history with both the Milanese audience and the critics. The prevailing operatic style in Milan was still for blood and thunder works with tyrannical fathers, villainous baritones and if possible a mad scene. Donizetti decided to give them everything they might expect, only not quite in the right order.
London-based Roumanian-born soprano Nelly Miricioiu had a great success in 2011 with the Polish premiere of Donizetti’s Maria Padilla. So it was very apt that the work be chosen for Chelsea Opera Group’s final concert of the season, one celebrating Nelly Miricioiu’s 60th birthday on Sunday 27 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Conducted by Brad Cohen, Chelsea Opera Group fielded a strong cast with Nelly Miricioiu as Maria de Padilla, Marianne Cornetti as her sister Ines, Emma Carrington as Francisca, Paul Curievici as Don Luigi, Piotr Lemp, as Don Alfonso, Richard Morrison as Don Pedro, Marco Panuccio as Don Ruiz and Daniel Grice as Don Ramiro.
The plot concerns the usual soprano, tenor, baritone triangle. Maria is love with Don Pedro who hopes to seduce her. She refuses (with a dagger in her hand), he agrees to marry her, but insists they keep the marriage secret. Maria elopes with him and her father, Don Ruiz, casts her off. When Don Pedro becomes King Pedro (the historical Pedro the Cruel), Don Ruiz comes to court disguised, insults Pedro, is beaten by Pedro’s men and goes mad. All ends happily of course.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted, from this summary, that the soprano is in love with the wrong voice. She’s in love with the cruel and villainous baritone and the tenor is the tyrannical father, who gets a mad scene (rather than the soprano). Was Donizetti spicing things up a bit, or perhaps having some fun at the expense of Milanese audience.
None of the other principals has a part quite as substantial as that of the title role. The opera is in fact delineated by Maria’s relationships with Ines, Don Pedro and Don Ruiz, expressed in a series of powerful and substantial duets. Additionally, Don Pedro and Don Ruiz’s punishing encounter is set out in duet form as well.
But Donizetti has another trick for us. At the premiere, the ending had Maria expire from joy. But shortly after this he replaced this ending with the present happy one with an explosive cabaletta for Maria. No-one knows why, and Donizetti’s surviving letters are little help. As he tore the music out of the score, this tragic ending cannot now be reconstructed.
One final musico-historical conundrum, the opera is a sort of sequel to Donizetti’s La Favourite; Pedro being the son of Alfonso the hero of that earlier opera.
No-one would expect Nelly Miricioiu at 60 to have the same voice as she did 25 years ago, but what is remarkable is the way she still combines dramatic intensity with an ability to move her voice around complex coloratura. There are few singers around to match Miricioiu for giving dramatic weight and colour to each note of a complex run, or for her daring (this latter was something which conductor Brad Cohen commented upon in his tribute to the singer which prefaced the concert).
Maria de Padilla seems a part tailor made for Miricioiu’s style of dramatic virtuoso singing. Donizetti’s vocal line is complex, but the character undergoes dramatic extremes. Donizetti hints at the sort of simpler dramatic utterance which would become common later in the century. Not everything Miricioiu did was lovely, but it all had an element of dramatic truth and there are still few singers around today to match her vividness.
The opera ends with an extended cabaletta for Maria, and the opera does have its fair share of cavatinas and cabalettas to satisfy the Milanese musical taste. But the meat of the role is in the duets, these are extended musical sequences where Donizetti allowed himself freedom. Here he was looking forward, reflecting the changes to his style wrought by Vienna and Paris. In the duets and ensembles he allowed himself a greater structural flexibility and longer breadth.
The duet between Maria and Don Pedro (Richard Morrison), when he comes to seduce her, is anything but a love duet. She is infatuated with Don Pedro but has a dagger and insists on marriage. The result is a scene which swings between moods in startling fashion.
With Maria and her sister Ines (Marianne Cornetti), we are on more familiar ground in their duet, as the two express their love for each other using the familiar device of cascades of thirds, something that Miricioiu and Cornetti did brilliantly and for the reprise they even moved to sharing the same copy.
The final duet is the startling and touching scene between Maria and her father, Don Ruiz (Marco Panuccio), driven mad by the beating he has received. This is another scene where Donizetti allows himself flexibility of structure and is not constrained by form. Miricioiu and Panuccio created a striking and touching duet, which rather prefigured some of Verdi’s great father daughter duets.
As Maria’s lover, Don Pedro, Richard Morrison displayed a beautifully moulded line, the high tessitura of the baritone part seemingly not a problem for him. His platform demeanour was rather understated and something of this crept in to his voice which, for all its beauty had a slight cool distance. Don Pedro needs to convey an element of glamorous danger, and Morrison didn’t. His first scene with Miricioiu was technically well judged but lacked a passionate edge, after all he was supposed to be seducing the woman by force. And his scene with Pannucio lacked a feeling of danger, after all Don Pedro was known as Pedro the Cruel. But this scene has some curiously interesting moments, with the two male voices venturing some cascades of thirds which echoed those of Miricioiu and Cornetti in their duet. Was Donizetti trying to tell us to tell us that these two violent men were akin to brothers, or was something more ironic going on.
As a romantic lead, Don Pedro isn’t a huge part. He is absent for much of the third act and when he does appear in the final scene, Donizetti and his librettist seem to have realised that they have never given Don Pedro the chance to express his love for Maria. So he sings a lovely cavatina, beautifully realised by Richard Morrison.
Don Ruiz is an equally odd role, being absent in the first act, very much the tyrannical father bogey man. Only at the end of the second act does he appear and challenge Don Pedro, receiving a beating for his pains. The character’s main interest is in the long mad scene in the third act, when Maria tries to win her father back to sanity. Here Marco Panuccio seemed to relish the chance to do something different from the general run of Rodolfos and Pinkertons (he is Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at Grange Park Opera). He has a beautiful voice and showed himself apt at colouring it during the mad scene. He created a touching relationship with Miricioiu’s Maria.
Marianne Cornetti has made something of a name for herself singing dramatic Verdi roles such as Eboli, Azucena and Amneris. But she seems to have an enviable ability to move her substantial voice around Donizetti’s vocal lines and to scale it aptly. Donizetti opens the opera with a duet for Ines (Cornetti) and her fiance, Don Luigi (Paul Curievici). Here Cornetti took time to warm up and her passage-work was inclined to be uneven. But she compensated by creating a vivid and appealing partnership with Curievici. In her duet with Miricioiu, Cornetti was fully on form and blended finely with Miricioiu. Ines is quite a substantial part and has a strong participation in the drama. Though the subsidiary soprano role, Donizetti made the part a real character and not just someone to make up the lines in ensembles. Cornetti clearly relished the opportunities given to her.
As Maria’s lovely, Don Luigi, Paul Curievici seize his moment of glory in the opening duet with Cornetti. Curievici was effective in creating a delightful relationship with Cornetti, even when he was not singing, this took the duet well past the conventions of concert opera. Curievici is a young singer whose career I have watched with interest over the last few years and it is pleasing to report that he has developed into a stylish Donizetti singer.
Piotr Lempa displayed a fine bass voice as Don Alfonso, who is killed between the first and second acts. Daniel Grice similarly impressed as Don Ramiro who appears in the second and third acts.
The performance wasn’t without incident. At one point Miricioiu lost her page in the score. And Panuccio bravely essayed a note in alt using head voices (a technique tenors of Donizetti’s time would have been familiar with), which didn’t quite come off, but I admired him for making the effort.
Donizetti made considerable use of the chorus in this opera, using them quite extensively to frame scenes. The opera opens with a short prelude which leads straight into a chorus of villagers. A structure which Donizetti uses again in the opera. The second act opens with a substantial chorus which sets the uneasy background to King Pedro’s reign.
Now, it has to be admitted that like many other choirs in London, the choir of Chelsea Opera Group has an ageing but enthusiastic personnel. Under chorus master Deborah Miles-Johnson, the choir has developed more presence over the last few years and they grasped enthusiastically the opportunities Donizetti gave them. Though in their big chorus at the opening of the second act I could have wished for rather more words.
Donizetti’s use of the orchestra in Maria Padilla reflects both the fact that Milan possessed a fine orchestra and that his style had developed since starting to write operas for Vienna and for Paris. Not only was the accompaniment richly expressive but Donizetti prefixed each act by an evocative prelude. The orchestra were on good form for Brad Cohen, who encouraged some seriously expressive playing from his players.
This was definitely a vintage Chelsea Opera Group evening. A strong cast, led by Nelly Miriociou under Brad Cohen’s clearly inspirational baton, meant that due dramatic weight was given to one of Donizetti’s unjustly neglected scores. And we celebrated Nelly Miriociou’s birthday in fine style.