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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
01 Aug 2012
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Opera Holland Park, London
This was unquestionably the best all-round performance I have yet seen from Opera Holland Park, staging and musical performances alike often putting august metropolitan houses from around the world to shame.
Where musical direction has sometimes proved variable, in Alexander Polianichko, OHP had recruited a fine Tchaikovsky conductor. (His reading of Cherevichki at the Royal Opera House was the first time I encountered his work.) Polianichko clearly felt at ease with the score and communicated that ease freely. Tempi and transitions were all well handled, nothing especially drawing attention to itself, the drama progressing ‘naturally’ from the musical ebb and flow - though, as we all know, it takes a great deal of art to conceal art. This might not have been the searing drama I heard Daniel Barenboim bring to Tchaikovsky’s opera in Berlin, but it served the work very well. It would be vain to suggest that the City of London Sinfonia would not have benefited from a greater number of strings - and there was room in the pit - but a chamber-orchestral performance worked far better than I had expected, noticeably better, indeed, than it had for Mozart or Beethoven, which suggests that the conductor and the performers on the night were at least as important as actual numbers. Certainly the strings played with cultivation and commitment. If they were sometimes overshadowed by some ravishing woodwind playing, the problem of balancing was not their fault.
Daniel Slater’s production was manifestly superior in every respect to the lifeless, Made-for-the-Met offering Deborah Warner foisted upon the Coliseum earlier this season. It will be interesting to see how Slater’s staging compares with the new production Kasper Holten is preparing for Covent Garden, since during a couple of conversations I had with Holten earlier this year, he mentioned the importance of memory to his conception of the work. (I think I can give that away at least, since it is not really giving anything away!)
That certainly shine through in Slater’s understanding too, Onegin a ghostly, dream-like figure often watching when he was not participating. Leslie Travers’s set - which might, and I mean this as a compliment - work equally well for an intelligent production of Der Rosenkavalier, evoke faded grandeur, the end of a line, aristocratic furniture upended, reminding us that Onegin was an outsider both chronologically as well as temperamentally. The third act, five years later, is set during the early years of the Revolution, the Polonaise treated as an opportunity for temporal relocation, young Soviet soldiers rearranging the stage, laying out a red carpet for (General?) Gremin and his well-connected wife, and, most touchingly, the nurse Filipievna snuffing out the candles from the Larinas’ chandelier.
It rises again, in fine post-revolutionary fettle, seemingly powered by newer, electric means, putting one inevitably in mind of Lenin’s equation of communism as Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country. I wondered at first how the new, Leninist setting would benefit the work, but was entirely won over, for the point was not so much the Leninist setting - though might that not also be an interesting idea: Onegin as Bolshevik, soon disaffected? - as the passing of time. There is nothing wrong, of course, with that being expressed as originally envisaged, but Tsarist St Petersburg is not in itself the point any more than Leningrad might be.
Books play an important role too. When we meet Tatiana, she is very much engrossed in her book (Richardson, presumably), something of a plain-Jane in contrast to the flightier Olga. Her mother, of course, counsels her - whether it be wisely is another matter - that she had to grow out of the fictions her youthful reading engendered, in order to live in the real world. The replacement of the Larinas’ library by an all-red set of books - suggesting, perhaps, a Progress Publishers’ collected edition, even though that fabled firm would not be founded until 1931? - again provides an excellent visual shorthand for the changed circumstances of the third act. Tatiana’s frustration is powerfully represented by her sweeping those books from the shelves.
In many respects, I felt that Slater’s staging brought Tchaikovsky’s opera, or at least its central character, closer to Pushkin’s ‘original’ than is usually the case. For not only is Onegin an outsider, he is filled with restlessness, and one has a very clear sense of him journeying from one scene to the next, much as in Pushkin’s lyric narrative. There is one loss here - though this is far from confined to this particular staging - in that there is relatively little room for Tchaikovsky’s homoeroticism, intentional or otherwise. Still, no staging of an interesting work will be able to deal with every concrete aspect, let alone with every dramatic possibility. This was the only staging I can recall seeing in the theatre to compare with Steven Pimlott’s bizarrely underrated production for the Royal Opera.
Mark Stone presented an Onegin handsome of tone as well as presence, aloof, restless, tormented without the slightest hint of exaggeration. Anna Leese was an excellent foil as Tatiana, her portrayal as intelligent, as dramatically progressive, as it was moving. Hannah Pedley’s Olga was pleasingly rich-toned, without detriment to her relative flightiness as a character (especially in this production). Whilst Peter Auty’s Lensky was well received, I found his performance and Patrick Mundy’s Triquet the only real disappointments in the cast, both somewhat coarse of timbre, the former in particular often sounding as if he would be happier singing Puccini. Otherwise, there was much to enjoy in the finely etched Mme Larina and Filipievna of Anne Mason and Elizabeth Sikora respectively, and in the less-geriatricly-portrayed-than-usual Gremin of Graeme Broadbent. The choral singing was excellent, an ideal match of clarity and weight, testament surely to excellent training from chorus master, Kelvin Lim. A memorable evening indeed.