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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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
05 Aug 2012
Glyndebourne : Ravel Double Bill L'enfant et les sortilèges, L'heure espagnole
Surrealist fantasy with wit and style! L'heure espagnole and L'enfant et les sortilèges, the Ravel Double Bill at Glyndebourne, mixes charm, intelligence and nightmare.
The audience applauded the scenery, but this time the praise was sincere. Ravel's music and ideas come alive. I'm tempted to say, "beyond our wildest dreams", because dreams release the creative imagination. Ravel begins L'enfant et les sortilèges with strange mock-orientalism, to emphasize the alien nature of what is to come. The child (Khatouna Gadelia) throws a tantrum, reflected in the stamping ostinato in the music, and the repetitive, angular vocal line. "Méchant! Méchant! Méchant!". Table, chair and Maman's skirts loom menacingly, overwhelming the child. This is what it feels to be little, dwarfed by the world of adults. The child rebels and rips his room apart. But the objects he wrecks have feelings, too.
"L'enfant et les sortilèges" says director Laurent Pelly "lasts about 45 minutes, but has the depth of an opera of three or four hours". (read the interview in Opera Today here). Ravel's music is extraordinarliy vivid, but his concepts don't easily translate into visual images. Pelly, however, is a master at bringing abstract ideas to life, as anyone who has seen his Glyndebourne Humperdinck Hansel und Gretel would know. The Teapot and the Chinese cup dance, their "human" bodies exposed beneath the hard exteriors of their form. Ravel glories in mad chinoiserie, which conductor Kazushi Ono plays up with manic relish. The words aren't real but dadaist invention, even in Colette's original. At Glyndebourne the surtitles flash "Sessue Hayakawa" .Since this Glyndebourne production is a co-production with Seiji Osawa's Saito Kinen Festival, it will be seen by Japanese audiences who will get the joke (and can read the nonsense "Chinese" writing). Hayakawa was a Hollywood megastar from the 1920's, who subtly subverted western stereotypes of Asian people. Ravel is sending up the whole notion of western attitudes to the East.
And by exploring exotic genres, Ravel expanded the palette of mainstream western music. Even in Colette's original French text,the Teapot and teacup sing in cod-English "Sir, I punch your nose. I knock out you, stupid chose (thing)". Shepherds and Shepherdesses jump out of the wallpaper the Child has defaced, singing of bizarrely coloured dogs and lambs. Everything safe and familiar is transformed. Ravel writes mock-pastoral,while the pastorals do a solemn mock baroque dance. Visions of Le petit Trianon! Revolution is afoot. The Fire explodes, threatening to engulf the room. Kathleen Kim shoots out of the fireplace in a structure that resembles flame. Kim also sings the Nightingale and the Princess. As theatre, the Fire is a dramatic stunning device, but also reminds us this Child has unleashed dangerous forces.
Some of Ravel's concepts are so abstract that they're a test of any director. Arithmetic, for example, which is so important to Ravel that he embeds the formal logic of mathematics into his music (The connection with L'heure espagnole is obvious) In the 1987 Glyndebourne production, the The Little Old Man who represents Arithmetic was surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of numbers. Pelly, however, brings out the true inner significance. The Child has rebelled against maths homework, and now the Glyndebourne chorus appears as identikit Child to mock him. The formality of rows and series - is this a droll in-joke about Ravel's music, and the music which followed? Kazushi Ono defines the structure with clarity, and the chorus moves with precision. Surrealism liberates the imagination, but art needs an element of intellectual rigour,
Sofas, chairs and clocks, Cats, animals and insects, all confront the Child with their human-ness. In the Garden, adult values no longer dominate. Here, the Child will learn the true nature of humanity Pelly, who designed the costumes, doesn't trivialise the "animals" but shows them as realistically as is possible (given that Bats and Squirrels don't sing). So different from the twee "animals" in Melly Still's The Cunning Little Vixen (review here). Here, animals are treated with dignity, for that's the message of the opera, that no-one is supreme in this universe.The Glyndebourne chorus transform into trees, each one individualized. Even "statues" move. The darkness now is less nightmare than transformative dream. At last the Child recognizes that selfishness is cruel. He caged and tortured the Squirrel, but now looks into her eyes and sees things throgh her perspective. The Squirrel was sung by Stéphanie d'Oustrac, who also sings the Cat. At last, the Child can be a child again and call "Maman! up towards the lighted window. Laurent Pelly's L'enfant et les sortilèges is a masterwork of emotional intelligence and sensitivity, absolutely informed by Ravel's music.
Stéphanie d'Oustrac also sang the main role of Concepción in L'heure espagnole. Elliot Madore sang Ramiro the Muleteer who carries clocks around so effortlessly that he becomes a Grandfather Clock in L'enfant et les sortilèges (where he also sings the Tom Cat). This constant role-changing might stress singers, but is very much part of the meaning of both operas, so they all performed well. Torquemada the clockmaker thinks life can be regulated by clockwork, but as his wife discovers, things don't always go as planned. François Piolino sang Torquemada, and also the Teapot, the Frog and the Old Man of Arithmetic). The staging of L'heure espagnole seems relatively dated compared with the sheer genius of Pelly's L'enfant et les sortilèges, but its clutter also suggests why we need clocks (and Arithmetic, and indeed of the mechanisms of the world around us).
This production will be screened from 19th August in cinemas and online, and will eventually be released on DVD.