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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.
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
04 Oct 2012
Martinů : Julietta, ENO
The ENO gave the British premiere of Bohuslav Martinů's Julietta many years ago, so this new production was eagerly awaited. But what will audiences new to Martinů get from this production? It's a myth that the English language makes opera more accessible. That just means audiences focus on words, rather than really listening or understanding.
Martinů's Julietta is a highly conceptual opera, with deliberate ambiguities and mind games. Just as in dreams, there are clues and contradictions. If ever there was an opera where listeners had to keep alert and pay attention, this is it. The opera predicates on dream states, but sleepwalking through Martinů's Julietta isn't wise.
The production dates from 2002 when it was first seen in Paris. The Overture opens to images of sleeping figures floating in space (or amniotic fluid). One figure emerges, Michel Lepic (Peter Hoare), bookseller by day, dreamer by night. The main set is a giant mock up of an accordion, which also serves to suggest the walls of a house from whose windows various characters appear at critcial points in the opera. Musically, this is perceptive, for Martinů writes an evocative solo for accordion into the first act, and the mechanics of the instrument suggest "lungs" or breathing. Accordions also evoke folk music, and thus memories of the past. A horn player walks round, his music evoking other, more sophisticated memories, offereing hope to those who have lost the past.
In this strange dream village, no-one can remember anything of the past. Nothing connects. If this is a landlocked European village, why is there a ship? Where do the Old Arab (Gwynne Howell) and Young Arab (Emilie Renard) fit in? The implication is that without memory, we're eternally adrift. It is significant that Martinů returned to Julietta at the end of his life, after decades of wandering through Europe and the United States.This gives the opera emotional depth, and is important to interpretation. As a musician, Martinů was sensitive to the power of music, where small snippets awake vast rivers of memory, so the many references to other music are deliberate. Even if some are barely more than wisps, their embedded presence is part of the meaning.
The giant accordion turns and moves, but within the orchestra Martinů writes fragments for solo instruments or small units like 3 oboes. The vast world theatre, and the tiny individual. This theme runs through the opera on several levels. Michel is alone in the busy village, and in the Central Office of Dreams he can't beat the bureaucratic machine. In the last act, the Accorion turns over so it resembles a giant, hideous skull, its keys reesembling the keys of a piano, the working tool of most composers.
Apart from Michel himself, the characters appear in different forms, and the Three Gentlemen in Frock Coats (as described in the score) sing in unison. Even Julietta (Julia Sporsén) is illusory, and needs to create an articial past through the postcards the Seller of Memories (Andrew Shore) peddles to the unwary. Gradually Michel is drawn deeper into delusion. Who shoots Julietta? Did she, can she die? It doesn't matter. People in this cosmos have no attention span. But as an audience, we do, which is why small details count, however elusive.
Anarchic as dreams are, performance should be rigorous. Martinů writes lusciously lyrical figures which seduce the ear, magically. But the Third Act tells us quite categorically that one cannot escape into the luxury of reverie. Beneath this lovely score lies a bedrock of anxiety. Is Michel all that different from the other inhabitants of this dream? He sells books (fiction?) after all. The Convict and the Blind Beggar are fixated by the same dream that takes the form of a lovely, elusive woman. Tension, anxiety and claustrophobia are fundamental to this music. Sharp staccatos, like the ticking of a clock, alarm bells. Yet at the ENO this sense of impending cataclysm was defused. Edward Gardner's Julietta is a pretty, light hearted reverie, not nightmare. The defining extremes in this core are smoothed over, so the firm structure of the opera becomes fragmented.
The singers, even the better ones like Hoare, Shore, Howell, Susan Bickley, Henry Waddington, Emilie Renard and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts are solid rather than haunting. Martinů 's Julietta is not easy to stage but ironically the visuals (directed by Richard Jones, designed by Antony McDonald) were far more effective than the performance. We need to see this production because it's historic, and good. But anyone who wants to hear what the opera really should sound like should stick to the recordings. Krombholc (1964) is top recommendation, Mackerras conducts only fragments. When the complete new edition, recorded by Jiří Bělohlávek in 2009 is released, that will be the one to get. I've been listening to an aircheck of the broadcast. Even on an amateur quality tape, the true spirit of Martinů 's Julietta shines through, magical and manic in turns. There have been several stagings of Martinů's operas in recent years, and of course the full symphonic cycle, but Julietta is outstanding. This ENO performance doesn't begin to reach those heights. I can't blame anyone thinking that Martinů 's Julietta is mediocre if they haven't heard what it can sound like.