Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
05 Oct 2012
Cecilia Bartoli Comes, Divides and Conquers
Cleopatra, one of few female seductresses in operatic history to emerge not only alive but empowered in the final act, is a fitting role for Cecilia Bartoli in her first season as artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.
She has assembled a dynamite new production of Handel’s
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, which premiered in May and returned to the
Summer Festival, with the early music ensemble Il Giardino Armonico
under the Italian singer’s old friend Giovanni Antonini alongside a
handpicked cast and the French-Dutch directing team Moshe Leiser/Patrice
Caurier. The opera, which premiered at the King’s Theater in 1724, was
one of Handel’s most popular in its time and still stands out from his
other operas for its stylistic variety and gripping drama. A libretto by Nicola
Francesco Haym adapts the story of Caesar’s amorous and political
alliance with Cleopatra after his arrival in Egypt in 48-47 BC but changes
historical details freely. He also packs in a high concentration of da capo
arias in keeping with the taste of Londoners in the 18th century.
Handel’s writing for Cleopatra includes some of his most beloved
numbers, and Bartoli meets expectations in this production (seen at the Haus
für Mozart on August 27) with natural charisma and authority. Although her
giggling first entrance bordered on kitsch in Leiser and Caurier’s bold
vision of a modern-day Egypt occupied by the European Union, she managed to
pull off their tongue-in-cheek direction as she pranced onstage in a leopard
jacked and boots during her first aria “Non disperar, chi sa?,”
playing with her unrivalled technique to manipulate coloratura passages for
clear dramatic purpose. This ability made itself most apparent in the firework
runs and carefully timed turns of “Dal Tempesta,” sung under an oil
tower as the future pharaoh resolved her energy anew in the third act. Bartoli
amused without affectation as a disguised servant, teasing the blue-suited
bureaucrat, Caesar (Andreas Scholl) after her aria “V’adoro,
pupille” in which takes off on a missile. Her slow aria “Piangero
la sorte mia,” which she sings in captivity by her ruthless brother,
Ptolomeo (Christoph Dumaux), brimmed with devastated emotion as she spun out
silver threads of coloratura
Scholl, who sings as many arias as his female counterpart, impressed equally
with the clear timbre and refined phrasing of countertenor as well as his
caricature-like dramatic portrayal of the role. “Dall’ondoso
periglio,” in which the Roman emperor prays to God to be reunited with
the woman for whom he has grown so much affection, featured pearly cascades and
pianissimi that floated sumptuously to the back of the theatre. The singing of
acclaimed mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter was a model of legato and inner expression
as Cornelia, the widow of Pompeo whom Ptolomeo has beheaded. Her chemistry with
the rising star Philippe Jaroussky in the role of Cornelia’s son, Sestus,
who slays the Egyptian pharaoh in revenge, was as touching as the musical
polish they both brought to every moment onstage. Jarsoussky revealed
impeccable taste in the ornamentation of the da capo to his aria “Cara
speme, questo core.”
The voice of Dumaux was slightly less penetrating, but he gave a powerful
account of his aria “Domero la tua fierezza” in which he declares
that he will curb Cleopatra’s pride, his rival for the throne. He also
executed some very athletic moves in his vindictive aria “Si, spietata,
il tu rigore.” The baritone Ruben Drole was a strong-voiced Achilles,
Ptolomeo’s advisor, and the alto Jochen Kowalski brought comic flair to
the role of Nirena, Cleopatra’s maid. Peter Kalman made for a valiant
Curio, Caesar’s tribune. The idiomatic articulation and richly nuanced
performance of Il Giardino Armonico nearly asserted the ensemble as a
character in its right. Antonini maintains a strong bass that nevertheless
allows every instrument to sing. The musicians cried with Bartoli in her
pleading aria “Se pieta di me non senti.”
Leiser and Caurier also deserve much credit for a staging that ingeniously
updates the mix of comedy and tragedy in Handel’s opera, casting a
critical eye toward modern European politics while allowing the singers to
indulge in just the right amount of slapstick. I found myself laughing with the
production rather than at it even through the most gregarious of gestures, when
as when Caesar is given a pair of 3D glasses during the prelude to
“V’adoro, pupille,” casting Cleopatra’s appearance as a
scene within a scene. The burning tires, Christmas-lit oil tower, and final
scene of a tank rolling onto the recreation of a cobblestoned street in
Salzburg (sets by Christian Fenouillat) made for a biting but riotously amusing
commentary on the current state of affairs. Even the dancing soldiers
(choreography by Beate Vollack), whose classical moves contrasted paradoxically
with their rifles, were perfectly in place. Costumes by Agostino Cavalca
reflected the imaginative scope of the directors, with corn rows for Ptolomeo
and a series of sexy costumes for Cleopatra in which the Intendantin still
managed to preserve her class.
Click here for cast and production information.