Recently in Reviews
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
28 Sep 2012
Marriage of Figaro at the BBC Proms
Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s visit to the Proms has become a much anticipated annual event. This year on 28 August, they brought Michael Grandage’s new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Robin Ticciati, who takes over as musical director at Glyndebourne in 2014.
In Michael Grandage’s original production at Glyndebourne, there was a raised acting area behind the orchestra, with cast and chorus sitting in semi darkness behind this, whilst not performing. In theis BBC Proms performance (Prom 60), there was no set as such, just rudimentary door frames for entrances and exits.
There were no surprises about the version we heard, the traditional secondary arias were cut to ensure that the drama flowed. And flow it did. The dramatic and farcical elements move The opera was given in an abbreviated staging by Ian Rutherford based on efficiently and swiftly. Humorously too of course, though the boisterousness in act two got dangerously close to real farce. It was part of the way through act two that I thought, who are these people? And basically, the production didn’t really tell me.
Grandage and his designer Christopher Oram had move the action to the 1960’s. Oram’s costumes were all pitch-perfect with velvet suits, liberty print shirts, floaty dresses complete with awful period hairstyles. But this period does not necessarily give a secure dramatic basis for the piece, in fact by rather smudging the hierarchical relationships Grandage rather reduced the drama. In an era of free-love, the relationship of the Count (Audun Iversen) with Figaro (Vito Priante) and Susanna (Lydia Teuscher) was just too friendly. We need to believe that the count almost has the power of life and death over his servants. Without this, he is reduced to a hypocrite in a Whitehall farce.
Perhaps the situation could have been remedied by distinctive, strongly characterised individual performances. But Glyndebourne had assembled a young, enthusiastic cast who work well as an ensemble, conveying Grandage’s intentions, but failed to establish a personal stamp on the characters.
Audun Iversen as the count was personable and promising, but I defy anyone to be imperious when wearing a wig like that and a wine coloured velvet suit. Nor did he exude a particular sexual magnetism, which is surely a necessity. Iversen’s count seemed just too nice, there wasn’t the element of steel in the portrayal, the feeling that he has real power in his fief-dom and enjoys it.
Iversen was, I think, a little too matey with Vito Priante’s Figaro. Priante sang the role well enough but any hint at being revolutionary or subversive was rather nullified by the period. The Marriage of Figaro needs to be a dangerous piece, with real characters trapped in power relationships.
Sally Matthews as the countess was a Celia Birtwell sort of figure, elegant and slightly melancholy. She sang beautifully, "Dove Sono" was ravishing, but did not quite mine the vein of heartbreak at the aria’s heart. This was also noticeable at the end of the opera where the countess’s forgiveness of the count was lovely, but not yet heart-stopping.