Recently in Reviews
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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
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.