Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
05 Oct 2012
Blaise le savetier and L’amant jaloux by Bampton Classical Opera
“Two classic French comedies, one wardrobe
” was Bampton Classical Opera’s billing for this amusing double bill and, with typically wry wit, director Jeremy Gray duly placed a shabby-chic armoire centre-stage and made it the location of some Cherubino-Countess-style confusions and Goldoni-esque farce.
François-André Danican Philidor (1726-95) was a versatile chap: he is
probably best known today as a chess master with a sophisticated set of opening
moves to his name — the Philidor Defence. But, a member of a talented musical
family, he also found employment at the Royal Chapel at Versailles (where he
first made his mark by beating the older musicians at chess!) and was a leading
exponent of the evolving genre of opéra comique. Indeed, his first
opera Blaise le savetier (The Cobbler’s Wife) might be judged to
have marked the launch of opéra comique; moreover, both the operas in
the programme seem to have anticipated (and perhaps inspired?) Mozart.
Blaise le savetier commences à la Figaro with a
‘domestic’. Young, handsome but penniless, Blaise and his vivacious wife
Blaisine must battle not only against poverty but also against the predatory
attentions of their rapacious landlords, Mr and Mrs Pinch. The latter are aptly
named, for they squeeze every last penny and attempt to coax sexual favours
from their young tenants.
Many of Philidor’s arias are quite short, interposed between the spoken
dialogue, but they establish character deftly and several make effective use of
the woodwind to add individuality. Martene Grimson (her real-life pregnancy
adding a wry frisson to the drama!) was superb as Blaisine: her principal aria
was tender and lyrical, and she acted convincingly and engagingly. As the
landlord’s grasping wife, Aoife O’Sullivan brought sparkle and energy to
the role. Robert Anthony Gardiner was a wily, relaxed Blaise, delivering the
text crisply, and projecting clearly and with pleasing tone. He made the most
of his virtuoso number, enjoying a duet with himself as he supplied his
wife’s responses in resplendent falsetto counterfeit.
Philidor’s expertise at chess earned him the moniker ‘le subtil’, and
dexterity, ingenuity and imagination are certainly all evident in the
composer’s resourceful shaping of the numerous ensembles and dramatic use of
harmony. The quintet was particularly zesty as the young couple presented a
united force in the face of their hysterical landlady’s outburst; here, as
throughout, Jeremy Gray’s direction was adroit, inventive but never fussy.
When André Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) appeared in Paris in 1767 he
presented Philidor with a rival. (Apparently, Philidor took refuge in chess,
playing blindfolded and taken on several opponents simultaneously.)
The personnel of Grétry’s L’amant jaloux (The Jealous Lover)
are a familiar bunch, straight out of commedia dell’arte: an aging father,
his eligible daughter, her guileful maid and two penniless suitors. The
fast-paced and delightfully inconsequential plot embraces all the rudiments of
commedia — mistaken identities, nocturnal hide-and-seek, with a
mandolin serenade thrown in for good measure.
Blaise (Robert Anthony Gardiner), Blaisine (Martene Grimson), Mr Pinch (Oliver Mercer)
Don Lopez, a rich merchant of Cadiz, does not want his widowed daughter
Léonore to re-marry, but she has other plans, being enamoured of the madly
jealous Don Alonze. Alonze’s sister and Léonore’s friend, Isabelle, is
being pursued by her tutor who wants to marry her. Florival drives away the
tutor and Isabelle takes refuge with Léonore, whereupon Alonze mistakes her
for a secret lover of Léonore Meanwhile Florival has fallen in love with the
mysterious stranger he has rescued and arrives at the house; informed by the
housekeeper that it is owned by Léonore, he assumes the latter must be the
object of his affection and serenades her. He is overheard by Alonze who, in a
furious rage, confronts Florival in the garden at night. Fortunately, they
realise they are not rivals before they do each other any damage. A
conveniently arriving inheritance allows Alonze to marry Léonore and,
fulfilling the requirements the comic genre, Florival also marries Isabelle.
The soprano parts are technically demanding but all three singers coped
admirably with the challenges. As Isabelle, Grimson’s coloratura was accurate
and her intonation secure, while Máire Flavin was excellent as the feisty
maid, Jacinthe. Tenor Oliver Mercer performed Florival’s serenade delicately
and touchingly, and Oliver Dunn was strong and confident as Don Lopez. The
translation by Gray and French is typically pithy, but at times some of the
cast seemed not entirely comfortable in the spoken passages.
Seated behind the performers, the musicians of Chroma performed with grace
and lightness, conductor Andrew Griffiths thoughtfully highlighting the musical
details in a manner which complemented the character and form of the vocal
lines. Griffiths clearly appreciates the composers’ melodic inventiveness and
the overall musico-dramatic structure of these works. The orchestral tone was
pleasing, the intonation excellent, and the ensemble between band and singers
consistent and secure.
Seeking out rarities and novelties has been a favourite, and greatly
rewarding, Bampton pursuit since the company’s creation nearly twenty years
ago. And, although dramatically rather slight, these two seldom performed
French opéras-comiques of the eighteenth-century provided much
melodious charm and humorous drollery, proving once again that Bampton
Classical Opera can be relied upon to entertain with style and accomplishment:
a company truly serious about comedy.
here for cast and production information.