Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.