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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.
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.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
21 Oct 2012
Mozart and Salieri — Young Artists at the Royal Opera House
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Mozart and Salieri (1897) received its first ever performance at the Royal Opera House as the highlight of Meet The Young Artists Week at the Linbury Studio Theatre.
Salieri is jealous because Mozart makes composing look easy. He poisons Mozart but weeps, since he’s reading the score for the Requiem, presumably overwhelmed by its beauty. We know the plot is fiction, but the text is by Alexander Pushkin, who lifts it above maudlin melodrama. Salieri can kill Mozart but he can’t kill his art. In destroying his rival, Salieri has compromised his integrity. “Can crime and genius go together?” he asks himself, and consoles himself with the thought that Michelangelo killed his model for the crucified Christ to get a better likeness for death. Does art justify murder? Pushkin and Rimsky-Korsakov possibly knew the tale was untrue, making Salieri’s excuse highly ironic.
Mozart and Salieri is unusual. The part of Salieri so dominates the work that it is more psychodrama than opera. Mozart and Salieri barely interact. Mozart isn’t a character so much as the embodiment of music. The real protagonists here are Salieri and the orchestra. At critical moments, Rimsky-Korsakov adds apposite musical quotations. Moments of Cherubino’s “Voi che sapete” convey Mozart’s youthful impudence. Fortepiano melodies are played, and shrouded figures sing excerpts from Mozart’s Requiem. References to Salieri’s opera Tarare and to Beaumarchais and Haydn are embedded into text and orchestration, expanding Salieri’s monologue. He can “hear” but he can’t create like Mozart can. The Southbank Sinfonia was conducted by Paul Wingfield, with Michele Gamba playing the keyboard Mozart is seen playing invisibly on stage, his hands lit with golden light. A magical moment.
Ashley Riches sang the demanding role of Salieri. His experience and skill come over well, even though he’s been a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists programme for barely a month. Later this year, he’ll be singing parts in The Royal Opera House Robert le Diable, Don Carlo and La rondine, and covering the title role in Eugene Onegin. In this opera, Mozart isn’t given much to sing, and the range in the part is limited, but Pablo Bemsch developed the role purposefully through his acting. Salieri thinks Mozart is skittish: Bemsch with sheer personality shows that Mozart is a stronger character than Salieri could ever fathom. Bemsch is a second-year Young Artist and has been heard extensively. He’s covering Lensky in February 2013.
The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme isn’t just for singers but focuses on theatre skills. This production was one of the most sophisticated I’ve seen for a group with these relatively limited resources. Sophie Mosberger and Pedro Ribeiro designed an elegantly simple set, which suggested that Salieri, despite his wealth and status, was a fundamentally isolated man. The little puppet figure buffeted by figures in the darkness suggested that both Mozart and Salieri were victims of forces greater than themselves. Exquisite lighting by Warren Letton, colours changing as mysteriously as the music. A stunning finale, where the dark figures singing excerpts from the Requiem move around lighted candles. Since financial problems will haunt the opera world for a long time to come, this restrained but poetic minimalism may be the way ahead. This production was intelligently thought through, and musically sensitive.
Before Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri, we heard Mozart’s Bastien and Bastienne, written when the composer was twelve years old. It’s a slight piece about a courtship between shepherd and shepherdess. Staging this literally would expose its weaknesses. Ribeiro and Mosberger set the Singspiele in a vaguely industrial landscape, which added much needed good humour and gave the singers more material with which to develop character. The trouble is, neither Bastien or Bastienne are much more than stereotypes. David Butt Philip, another new Young Artist, generates interest with his voice though the part is shallow. Dušica Bijelić sings sweetly but needs to project more forcefully. Jihoon Kim made a much more convincing portrayal of Colas, the wise older man who sorts things out. He was a striking Hector’s Ghost in the Royal Opera House Les Troyens in June 2012, and will be singing in several ROH productions in the 2012/13 season.