Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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.