20 Jul 2012
Rossini Il viaggio a Reims, Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists programme is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their annual Summer Performance.
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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
The Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists programme is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their annual Summer Performance.
Normally each summer the current young artists give a programme of semi-staged opera scenes. This year the celebrations called for something bigger and a complete performance of Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims was given, semi-staged, in the main Covent Garden auditorium.
Rossini’s 1825 opera is very much an occasional work, despite being one of his finest compositions. It was commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in France and has a plot specific to the occasion, a group a aristocrats coming together to travel to Rheims for Charles’s coronation. Rossini did not intend the piece to have a life beyond the first performances in Paris and about half the music found its way into Le Comte d’Ory. It was premiered at the Theatre Italien with some of the greatest voices of the day and has had a modern life, thanks to the strength of Rossini’s music, since the piece’s reconstruction for the 1984 Pesaro Festival.
It is a very unlikely piece, one which would seem destined for the scrap heap of history; it needs 14 soloists, all strong Rossinians, and has plot of elemental simplicity. But Rossini rose to the challenge and showed a wide degree of skill and humour. He used his full dramatic manner to satirise the storm in a teacup that represents the work’s ‘drama’, and then displayed superb skill with the grand ensemble for the 14 soloists.
Covent Garden last performed the work in 1992, with an all-star cast in an eminently forgettable production. Few companies can afford to mount the work properly, and with its plethora of small but demanding roles would seem ideal for a large young cast. The trouble is that everyone needs to be able to perform Rossini stylishly; there is little room for error. Covent Garden assembled a cast which included all of the current Jette Parker Young Artists with a number of returning ones from previous seasons. The conductor, Daniele Rustioni, was an associate conductor of the scheme a few years ago and the concert staging was by Pedro Ribeiro who is a current young artist.
The Royal Opera Orchestra was given a night off and the ENO Orchestra played. The orchestra were placed on stage in a wood panelled acoustic shell which ensured that the sound quality in the auditorium was optimum. The singers were placed in a row in front of the orchestra, they used music and music stands but many were just about off the book and none sang with eyes glued to copy. The result was surprisingly successful and dramatically involving. All sang Rossini’s fioriture creditably, there was no embarrassing flailing about or flabby wobbling round runs. Granted a couple of the bigger voices tended to smudge their runs, but there were few real Rossini specialists here. For example, Corinna was played by Marina Poplavskaya (2005-2007 young artist) who is moving into heavier roles; she has an Elisabeth (Tannhauser) planned.
What also impressed was the discovery that a number of the returning singers, who I had only ever seen in serious roles, had a strong flair for comedy, notably Poplavskaya, Jacques Imbrailo (2006-2008 young aristst) who played Trombonk, Ailish Tynan (2002-2004 young artist) who played Madam Cortese and Matthew Rose (2003-2005) who played Lord Sidney.
Madeleine Pierard (a current Young Artist), as La Contessa di Folleville, got one of the work’s best known numbers, the countess’s large scale tragic aria bewailing the loss of her hats. Pierard did Rossini the compliment of taking the piece entirely seriously, which made it all the more hilarious as Pierard’s stylish roulades cascaded out. Rossini used his grand tragic manner in this aria. Pierard has a big dramatic voice and used it brilliantly. There were moments of harshness at the top, and her fioriture would not stand scrutiny in the recording studio, but she brought style and vibrancy to the piece.
Tynan was on superb form, clearly enjoying herself and making a lovely contribution to all the ensembles, her opening solo displayed some of the finest singing of the evening and a lovely trill. As Madama Cortese (the owner of the inn) laments her inability to get travel to Rheims, Rossini again sends up the genre with an over-elaborate aria which Tynan relished.
Imbrailo did not really get a major solo moment but as the German character he was rather ubiquitous as he seemed to be organising everything. Imbrailo did so with beautiful tone and a wry sense of amusement.
Poplavskaya looked suitably dramatic as the poetess given to rhapsodising. When participating in the main opera, especially in her long scene with Belfiore (Edgaras Montvidas, 2001-2003 Young Artist), she was in fine form. In the two rhapsodies, sung from the rear of the stage with just harp accompaniment, she seemed to be attempting to thin her voice down further than it really wanted to go so that there was some unwanted strain, which was a shame.
Montvidas seemed to be in his element as the rather greasy cavalier, his performance just nicely overdone with a fabulous duet with Poplavskaya. Rose’s Lord Sidney was also in love with Corinna and this gave Rose his long solo moment, full of compressed pomposity and repressed emotion, accompanied by a superb flute solo.
The first half concluded with Don Profondo’s catalogue arias. Lukas Jakobski (2009-2011 Young Artist) gave this a fine comic turn and proved remarkably adept at Rossini’s patter song. Later in the opera he showed himself not averse to using his height for comic purposes when he sang a duet with Tynan.
By this point, Rossini had essentially introduced all the characters. Nearly all had been given a significant display moment, in aria or duet. The interval was placed after Don Profondo’s aria (which is in fact scene 3 of Act 2). This meant that the second half opened with Rossini’s master-stroke. The one major piece of drama in the piece, the lack of horses to take the party to Rheims, brings as a response the gran pezzo concertato a classic Rossinian ensemble, but written for 14 soloists.
There followed one final duet, for the Marquise, Kai Rüütel (2009-2011 Young Artist) and Libenskof, Jin-Hyun Kim (current Young A|rtist). Rüütel has an attractively warm mezzo-soprano voice which she used intelligently and with great charm, though I don’t think that she is a natural Rossini singer. Kim displayed his fine lyric tenor with superb fluency in the fioriture and an ability to take his voice up high with apparent ease. Kim should certainly be an asset in this repertoire.
For the finale, each of the aristocrats sings a National song, which gives Rossini a chance to have fun at other people’s expense. The cast enjoyed themselves and this helped enormously in what is, I think the weakest part of the opera. I worked out that in a large international cast, only Matthew Rose (as Englishman Lord Sidney) was playing his own nationality.
The smaller roles were all well taken. Justina Gringyte (current Young Artist) was a strong Maddalena who impressed enormously in the opening ensemble, Daniel Grice (current Young Artist) was a characterful Antonio, Hanna Hipp (current Young Artist) showed a talent for expressive face pulling as the countess’s maid and Jihoon Kim (current Young Artist) was nicely pretentious with orotund voice as Don Prudenzio
Conductor Daniele Rustioni was extremely hard working. Not only is he a very active conductor, but he was assiduous in cueing singers and ensuring that the complex ensembles stayed on track. He gave the work a lively and infectious bounce and paced it nicely. In the ensembles and the gran pezzo concertato he ensure that not only did things stay on track, but that the music never sagged, ensuring forward momentum without ever seeming driven. This was a brilliant vibrant performance with surprisingly crisp edges. His podium was effectively part of the acting aria and he participated in the action as well.
Jean-Paul Pruna (current Young Artist) played the forte-piano continuo. He was also on stage, but the instrument seemed slightly under powered for my taste, though Pruna’s playing was discreet and effective.
The ENO Orchestra were on good form, giving us some superb solo playing, fine accompaniment, crisp lively playing with fine details. From the opening notes there was something infectious about their performance, perhaps they enjoyed the unfamiliar repertoire or just being in the spot-light on-stage for once, but the players seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the singers and it showed in their playing.
The standard of Rossinian singing was creditably high, particularly from non-specialist singers. All the young voices sang the Rossini with a degree of style, conveyed the humour with the music showing their enjoyment. Aided by Rustioni’s conducting and Ribeiro’s discreetly effective staging this was a sparkling evening in the theatre