Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

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.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

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.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

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.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

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.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

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.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

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.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

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.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

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.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

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.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

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.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

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: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘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.

Nabucco at Orange

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.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

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.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

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.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

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.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

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.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘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.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

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?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vienna Philharmonic, Riccardo Muti conducting. [Photo © Silvia Lelli courtesy of the Salzburg Festival]
20 Aug 2012

Berlioz and Liszt at the Salzburg Festival

At the Salzburg Festival, Riccardo Muiti conducted Liszt’s Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe and Berlioz’s Messe solonnelle.

Franz Liszt: Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (S 107), Les Préludes (S 97); Hector Berlioz: Messe solennelle (H 20)

Julia Kleiter: soprano, Samir Pirgu: tenor, Ildar Abdrazakov (bass). Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus (chorus master: Ernst Raffelsberger). Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Riccardo Muti (conductor).

Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 17th August 2012

Above: Vienna Philharmonic, Riccardo Muti conducting.

Photos © Silvia Lelli courtesy of the Salzburg Festival

 

This, the third of the Vienna Philharmonic’s concerts, reunited the Salzburg Festival’s pit band with one of its favourite conductors, Riccardo Muti. Muti’s presence on the podium pretty much guarantees at the very least a high degree of execution, and there were no real problems in that respect here, though I have heard the VPO sound more faultless, not least with him. In the right repertoire, and the nature of that repertoire can readily surprise, Muti remains a great conductor. Berlioz proved on this occasion a better fit than Liszt, perhaps not surprisingly, given Muti’s track record: I recall a fine Salzburg performance of the Symphonie fantastique, followed by Lélio.

I have heard far worse in Liszt, a composer who suffers more than most not only from bad performances, but also from the deleterious consequences thereof. Bach’s towering greatness will somehow, quite miraculously, shine through even the worst the ‘authenticke’ brigade can throw at him; Liszt in the wrong hands can readily sound meretricious, and even we fervent advocates have to admit that his œuvre is mixed in quality. The late, indeed outlying, Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe (‘From the Cradle to the Grave’) (S 107) fared better of the two symphonic poems performed, birth and death in turn faring better than the ‘struggle for existence’ in the middle. The VPO contributed delicate, sensitive performances in those outer sections, violas’ cradle song and woodwind caresses especially ravishing.

Les Préludes, (S 07), on the other hand, suffered from some of the bombast that also infected the middle section of the first work. The most celebrated of Liszt’s symphonic poems — for reasons that remain obscure to me — is extremely difficult to bring off successfully. Muti’s reading did not exhibit the vulgarity of, say, Solti, yet nor did it entirely convincingly convey harmonic motion and richness of texture. There were times when, volume notwithstanding, the work sounded somewhat thin. The audience, however, acted as if it were English in Beecham’s understanding, not much liking the music of Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe, reaction quite tepid indeed, but certainly liking the noise that Les Préludes made.

15Aug2012__Silvia_Lelli_8.gifJulia Kleiter, Ildar Abdrazakov, Riccardo Muti, Saimir Pirgu, Vienna Philharmonic

Berlioz’s Messe solennelle (H 20) was long thought lost, yet it resurfaced in 1991, granted its first modern performance in 1993. This was the first time I had heard this fascinating work in the flesh. Whilst it would be folly to proclaim it a masterpiece, or even something approaching that status, it has much to interest, not least in Berlioz’s recycling of some of the ideas in works that certainly are amongst his greatest. One might expect a degree of kinship between this mass and, say the Requiem — the latter’s celebrated brass interventions reusing material from the Resurrexit’s ‘Et iterum venturus’, but one can hardly fail to be brought up short by the appearance of music one knows so well from the ‘Scène aux champs’ in the Symphonie fantastique, employed both orchestrally and then chorally. Muti’s long experience in the sacred music of Cherubini served him well in this performance, which it is difficult to imagine being bettered.

Steely, post-Revolutionary grandeur he does extremely well, form delineated with great clarity, but tender moments were equally well served. Any fears of undue restraint were duly banished by a blazing conclusion to the Kyrie. Choral singing was excellent throughout, as, the occasional blemish aside, were the performances of a large, though not extravagant, VPO. Movements additional to the typical mass — at least, typical to us, if not necessarily to early-nineteenth-century France — provided especial interest: an O salutaris, following Cherubini’s practice, and a celebratory monarchical Domine salvum fac, the latter benefiting greatly from sweet-toned yet ardent tenor, Samir Pirgu, and the darkly Verdian Ildar Abdrazakov, whose contributions throughout were, following a slightly muddy start, characterful and at time ominous. Only soprano Julia Kleiter was somewhat disappointing, her intonation rendering Berlioz’s pastoral a little sea-sick, before descending into generalised blandness. This was Muti’s performance, though; he set his seal on the work with style and conviction.

Mark Berry

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):