Recently in Performances
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.
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.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
28 Aug 2012
La bohème at the Salzburg Festival
It is difficult to speak with excessive enthusiasm of the programming of a Salzburg Festival that included both Carmen and La bohème, though it would subsequently be redeemed in part by a staging of Die Soldaten.
That said, La bohème proved more successful in almost every way than the relatively disappointing Carmen seen earlier in the week.
Above all, this was a triumph — perhaps predictable, but none the less worth of mention for that — for Daniele Gatti and the Vienna Philharmonic. This was the first time during this year’s Festival in which I had heard the VPO on top form — though it would not be the last. The comparison may be odious but it made me realise quite what had been missing in the Welsh National Opera performance I had heard in June. Wagnerisms abound, of course, but it takes a great conductor truly to relish them like this and to transmute them into something quite personal to Puccini. Harmony and orchestration are really what is most interesting about the composer’s work, however naggingly memorable some of his melodies might be. Gatti presided over an orchestral performance comparable to his Salzburg Elektra a couple of years ago, the sheer depth of tone resounding throughout the Grosses Festspielhaus as impressive as the shimmering, translucent beauties of Puccini’s more modernistic passages. Pacing was irreproachable, permitting the story and, most important, the score to unfold as they would, rather than imposing an irrelevant external framework upon them; unity was thereby enhanced rather than detracted from.
The cast was first-rate too. Piotr Beczala has often sounded too Italianate, indeed too Puccini-like, in much of the repertoire in which I have heard him; this is clearly where he is most at home. The odd moment at which I thought less might have been more aside, there was nothing for which to reproach him here and much to laud. If ultimately Rodolfo is hardly the most interesting of roles, Beczala did what he could with it, dynamic range and shading especially noteworthy. Likewise, unsurprisingly, for Anna Netrebko’s Mimi, a star turn if ever there were one. Netrebko truly inhabited the role, both more generally and with particular reference to Damiano Michieletto’s production too. Many of the more celebrated opera singers in this repertoire might have disdained a production that failed vulgarly to flatter them ; Netrebko relished the contemporary setting and the emphasis upon Mimi as disadvantaged. Her voice was in excellent repair, soaring gloriously above the equally glorious orchestra. I had not come across Nino Machaidze before, but her sexy, intelligent Musetta made me hope that I shall do so again soon. Massimo Cavalletti’s Marcello put not a foot wrong; nor indeed did any member of the ‘supporting’ cast. Choral singing was of the highest standard throughout — an often overlooked aspect, crucial to a successful performance of this opera.
Nino Machaidze as Musetta, Massimo Cavalletti as Marcello, Marcello Giordani as Rodolfo, Alessio Arduini as Schaunard and Carlo Colombara as Colline
In a sense, there was nothing especially radical about Michieletto’s production, though given what most houses present for La bohème, one could say that even the very fact of moving the action to the twenty-first century shows a thirst for adventure. (In this of all operas, there is surely an imperative, albeit incessantly flouted, to rid a staging of every last ounce of sentimentality.) Costumes alone, designed with flair by Carla Teti, would doubtless have had self-appointed ‘traditionalists’ spluttering: a good in itself, though hardly enough. Designs were splendid: spectacular in a good rather than vulgar-Zeffirelli sense. The Paris street and metro map that unfolded from time to time was really rather fun. Act Three’s sense of an urban, frozen wasteland, replete with obligatory burger van, was chilling, in more than one sense. Yet the production had subtler virtues too, foremost amongst which should be accounted the space it permitted one to question the work and assumptions one might hold about it. Whilst I cannot (yet?) bring myself quite to accept the metatheatrical claims made for the opera by some, however much more interesting they might make it, there was to be discovered here, even if this were not the director’s intention, an indictment of the selfishness of youth. Where Michieletto spoke of celebration, it was equally possible, and indeed in my case more so, to recognise from experience the shallow posing and disingenuousness of student-style declarations of love, purpose, and principle. Mimi became a more interesting victim, or perhaps better, the circumstances that brought about her fate became sharpened, without turning the opera into something that it was not. I wonder how this will be received in Shanghai, with whose Grand Theatre this is a co-production.