20 Aug 2012
Ariadne auf Naxos, Salzburg Festspiele
When announced in November, this was trailed as the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, a rare treat indeed.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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.
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?
When announced in November, this was trailed as the original version of Ariadne auf Naxos, a rare treat indeed.
What materialised was something rather different, which ultimately delivered less than it might have seemed to promise. The Salzburg Festival’s Director of Drama not only directed the stage proceedings, but offered a new version of his own. Hofmannsthal’s adaptation of Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme is itself adapted so as to form the basis of a further level of metatheatricality. Nothing wrong with that in principle; indeed Strauss tends to thrive on such æsthetic play.
Emily Magee (The Prima Donna/Ariadne)
The problem, however, is that the new level is ultimately banal, an explanation of the enterprise being a Hollywood love-story between Hofmannsthal and Ottonie von Degenfeld-Schonburg. What most interests many of us about Strauss is the fraught relationship, and sometimes serene disconnection dialectically reinforcing itself as in connection, between life and work. Presentation of a vulgar, sub-Romantic ‘life explains works’ story cheapens rather than intrigues. Otherwise, Bechtholf’s production is unobjectionable. Rolf Glittenberg’s set designs are stylish, likewise Marianne Glittenberg’s costumes, save for an unfathomably dreadful leopard-skin get up for Bacchus. (Zerbinetta likens his stealing forward to that of a panther, but even so )
Added to this mix prior to the interval are certain parts of the later, 1916 Prologue, albeit spoken. What a waste to reduce the Composer to a spoken part! At least, however, we have opportunity to hear the incidental music. Then, after the interval, comes the opera proper, albeit with interventions from Hofmannsthal and Ottonie — yes, their love bears fruit at the same time as that of Ariadne and Bacchus — and, more irritatingly, from the dreadful M.Jourdain, objecting, in a fashion doubtless considered ‘witty’, that the music might be beautiful but it lacks a French horn, that Ariadne does nothing but complain, and so on. Many of these ideas might have sounded good on paper, even in discussion, but would have been better off rejected when it came to practical rehearsal. Yes, we hear the opera music for 1912, but we do not hear it as conceived: a pity, when even this problematical first version is so manifestly greater in sophistication than this 2012 Salzburg ‘version’. It was fascinating to hear what remained from 1912, but it would have been still more fascinating to have heard it all.
Roberto Saccà (Tenor/Bacchus)
After an occasionally shaky start, the Vienna Philharmonic was on good form. Daniel Harding shaped the incidental music before the interval with knowledge both of its French Baroque origins and the affectionate almost-but-not-quite neo-classicism in which Strauss clothes it. The Overture in retrospect offered something of an exception, more Stravinskian than what was to come, but not jarringly so. Form was conveyed intelligently and meaningfully throughout the opera, a more than satisfactory balance achieved between ‘numbers’ and the greater whole. The final climax was thrilling, moving as it should, the chamber orchestral forces persuading one, in a moment of echt-Straussian magic, that they are larger than they are, both consequence and deflation of Wagner’s examples. (The earlier Tristan quotations did not fail to delight, nor, of course, to raise a smile.)
Emily Magee was an adequate Ariadne, but rarely more than that. Too often, her voice failed to soar as it should; an edge to it proved a touch unpleasant. Elena Moşuc, by contrast, proved an outstanding Zerbinetta. Her extended aria, up a semitone, was delivered as flawlessly as I can recall any performance of the somewhat easier — that is, of course, relative! — 1916 version. The 1912 aria is even more outsized, even more absurd, in its way even more lovable; at least, that was how it sounded here. Roberto Saccà did a fine job in the thankless role of Bacchus; if he could not quite manage to prevent the strain from showing, and could not quite help one long for Jonas Kaufmann, who performed the role earlier in the run, there was a great deal for which to be grateful and nothing which to object. (Apart, that is, from the costume.) Zerbinetta’s followers were full of character and inviting of tone; it would really be invidious to choose between Gabriel Bermúdez, Michael Laurenz, Tobias Kehrer, and Martin Mitterrutzner. Likewise the other smaller sung roles. If the actors impressed less, it was difficult to know whether that was simply on account of the material. At any rate, I assume the over-acting of Cornelius Obonya’s M. Jourdain was at least in part on directorial instruction.
Will someone now offer us the 1912 version we were promised? And then we can return safely to the unalloyed joys of 1916.