19 Oct 2012
Lucia di Lammermoor at Arizona Opera
The role of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was written for Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani who lived from 1812 to 1867.
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.
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?
The role of Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor was written for Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani who lived from 1812 to 1867.
The daughter of the famous Italian tenor and cellist, Nicola Tacchinardi, Fanny began working on her vocal technique in childhood. Eventually she became associated with the music of bel canto composers, such as Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and the young Verdi. In 1832, she made her stage debut at Livorno and she soon appeared in major Italian cities singing major roles in operas such as Tancredi, La gazza ladra, Il pirata, and L’elisir d’amore.
When Donizetti heard her in 1833, he described her voice as “rather cold, but quite accurate and perfectly in tune.” He chose her to create title roles in three of his operas: Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Pia de’ Tolomei, and Lucia di Lammermoor. Her voice has elsewhere been described as sweet and light with a brilliant upper register. We know that she had remarkable agility and that she could sing a given aria several times in succession, each time with a different cadenza. It seems that she caused an unfortunate dispute during the rehearsals for the Lucia premiere. Donizetti wrote that she made a fuss, which terrified tenor Gilbert Duprez, because she wanted the last scene of the opera to be sung by the soprano, not the tenor.
Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896), the French tenor famous for pioneering the delivery of an operatic high C from the chest, created the role of Edgardo in Lucia. Having made his debut as Count Almaviva in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia in Paris in 1825, a few years later he decided to try his luck in Italy. There, the operatic scene was more active and he found work even though he preferred to sing operas in which there were few elaborate coloratura passages. In 1831, Duprez took part in the first Italian performance of Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell and, for the first time during the performance of an opera, he sang a high C full voice, not in the so-called falsetto register as was usual at that time. After that, his success was assured in Italy. By 1835, when he sang Edgardo at the world premiere of Lucia di Lammermoor at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples, his reputation was well established. He also sang leading roles in other Donizetti premieres such as La favorite, Les Martyrs, and Dom Sébastien. In 1851, he made his last public appearance as Edgardo at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris. By that time his high C from the chest had become a standard feature of operatic singing. His legacy was the tenore di forza, a direct ancestor of today’s dramatic tenor.
Domenico Cosselli (1801-1855) was an Italian bass-baritone most often associated with the florid singing of Rossini’s operas. For Donizetti, however, he created: Olivo in Olivo e Pasquale, Azzo in Parisina, and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. He was one of the first singers to make the transition from the old concept of a bass to what we know today as a baritone, a voice type that in 1835 was still in its infancy. He gave the role of Enrico a new dimension that looked forward to the idea of the Verdi baritone.
On Saturday evening October 13, Arizona Opera presented Lucia di Lammermoor in a traditional production with sets by Robert R. O’Hearn that was originally seen at Florida Grand Opera. Fenlon Lamb, who has sung mezzo-soprano roles on the opera stage, directed it in Arizona. She told Lucia’s sad tale in a most realistic manner. Some might have questioned her use of an actress to embody the ghost that Lucia says she sees at the fountain, but it did underline the young woman’s desperate mental state. The attractive, detailed costumes from A.T. Jones and Sons were correct for the time and place. Douglas Provost’s evocative lighting added much to the show’s gothic ambience.
The Lucia was Stacy Tappan, who sang one of the Rhine Maidens in the recent Los Angeles Ring of the Nibelungen. Hers is a substantial lyric coloratura voice and she has the technical resources to follow in the steps of singers like Tacchinardi Persiani. Joseph Wolverton was a romantic Edgardo who sang with a secure line. The surprise of the evening was the Enrico of Mark Walters. He sang his first scene aria, “Cruda, funesta smania”, with powerful low tones and thrilling top notes. Jordan Bisch, who has a dark, dense voice, made an auspicious debut as Raimondo, the minister who tries to make peace between the families. Samuel Levine was an appropriately smarmy Normanno and Laura Wilde a dramatic Alisa. David Margulis, whom I last heard as an apprentice at Santa Fe Opera, was a radiant voiced Arturo who held his own in the beautifully sung sextet. The chorus is most important in this opera and, thanks to the hard work of Henri Venanzi, Arizona Opera has a truly first class choral group. They acted individually and sang their harmonies with exquisite precision. Steven White conducted at a brisk pace, never letting the tension sag in the least. He shaped the orchestral sound so as to bring out every color and detail of Donizetti’s magnificent score. This was a fine performance and an auspicious opening for Arizona Opera’s 2012-2013 season.
Lucia: Stacy Tappan; Edgardo: Joseph Wolverton; Enrico: Mark Walters; Raimondo: Jordan Bisch; Normanno: Samuel Levine; Arturo: David Margulis; Alisa: Laura Wilde; Conductor: Steven White; Director: Fenlon Lamb; Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi; Set Designer: Robert R. O’Hearn; Costumes: A.T. Jones and Sons; Lighting Design: Douglas Provost.