Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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.