Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
05 Oct 2012
Mozart’s Ghost finds its Way through Das Labyrinth
W.A. Mozart, despite a historically antagonistic relationship with his city of birth, retains an omnipresence in Salzburg that emerges in full force with each iteration of the illustrious summer festival.
The indulgence reached its
pinnacle in 2006—fifty years prior to his tercentenary—with the
staging of all 22 of his operas, including early works which scholars have
discovered to have been co-authored by his father, Leopold. This season, the
new Intendant Alexander Pereira has brushed the dust off another 18th-century
obscurity, written not by W.A. himself but in posthumous tribute to his last
opera, Die Zauberflöte. The librettist and impresario Emmanuel
Schickaneder, eager to ride the success of the Singspiel, set to work writing a
sequel, Das Labyrinth, and found a willing partner in the composer
Peter von Winter. The work was premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1798,
seven years after Mozart’s death and the premiere of Die
To Schickaneder ‘s credit, the ambiguous nature of good and evil in
the original libretto continues to provide scholars with endless fodder. When
Goethe heard of the Das Labyrinth’s success in 1803, he began penning his
own sequel which was left incomplete after the fruitless search for a composer.
While Goethe develops the story in a more Romantic direction, endowing Tamino
and Pamina with a son, the Genius, and augmenting the magical powers of both
the Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the trajectory of Schickaneder’s
sequel does not depart much from Die Zauberflöte despite the
introduction of several new characters and a labyrinth which represents the
final trial for Tamino and Pamina (never mind that Sarastro already initiated
them into his sun circle). Meanwhile, the Queen is scheming not only with the moor
Monostatos but Tipheus, King of Paphos, who vies for Pamina’s hand. They
manage to briefly abduct the princess, but the Queen must ultimately cede to
Sarastro’s powers when Tamino defeats Tipheus in a duel. Papageno and
Papagena, who have discovered a large extended family, also help suppress evil
by capturing Monostatos.
Winter’s score faithfully adopts strains of the original opera with a
range of success. The first duet of Papageno and Papagena, “Lalaera!
Lara! Lara!,” is a pleasant spinoff of “Pa, pa, pa…”
without directly rehashing Mozart’s melodies. The chorus of priests that
ends the eleventh scene of Act One is skilfully crafted, a ghost of
Mozart’s incomparable harmonies, yet it would have been better placed at
the very end of the act. The Queen’s opening aria “Ha! Wohl mir!
Höre es, Natur” reveals that Winter studied his late Mozart operas
carefully, with strong hints of his proto-Romanticism, yet it is melodically
not very inventive, and the firework coloratura that characterizes the role is
reduced to a passage of uninspired runs toward the end. The sequel’s
Pamina is assigned more virtuosity than her original counterpart, but sadly,
the spin-off to the aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”—“ Ach!
Ich muss alleine tragen”—gives no musical indication of her longing
to die and instead culminates in meaningless coloratura. The Three Women, here
named Venus, Amor and Page, get some nice numbers, revealing Winter’s
talent for colourful, pseudo-Mozartean scoring, and yet the effort could have
been more self-conscious. The five-note motive representing the magic flute
does not emerge once, not even when Sarastro hands it to Tamino for protection before
he enters the labyrinth.
Despite the worn-out qualities of the piece, it has its genuinely charming
moments, particularly with Papageno and his clan. In the Salzburg production,
seen August 26, the young Austrian baritone Thomas Tatzl stole the show as the
feathered bird catcher, joking to the audience with tireless charisma and a
naturally warm, well-projected voice. Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann was also
delightful as Papagena. The celebrated tenor Michael Schade was the stand-out
of the evening from a purely vocal perspective in the role of Tamino, while
Malin Hartelius was more uneven as Pamina, struggling to overcome the
unfavourable acoustics of the Residenzhof, a covered courtyard where audience
members sat with blankets on their laps to ward of the chill of the Salzburger
Schnürrregen (sudden rainfall). The bass of Christoff Fischesser
similarly risked being swallowed in the role of Sarastro. As the Queen of the
Night, Julia Novikova was strongest in pure lyric moments. The baritone Klaus
Kuttler was a frustrated Monostatos, and Anton Scharinger amusing as the Older
The Three Women (Nina Bernsteiner, Christina Daletska, and Monia Bohinec)
brought fine singing to the stage, as did members of the Festival
Children’s Choir who appeared to Tamino as the “Three Genies”
after Monostatos’ attempt to abduct Papagena. The Salzburger Bachchor,
prepared by Alois Glassner, did full justice to Winter’s choral numbers,
and Ivor Bolton led the Orchestra of the Mozarteum in a characteristically
crisp, authentic reading of the score, even if it occasionally lacked elegance.
Sets by Raimund Orfeo Voigt started out inauspiciously with a mini-proscenium
of a theatre that looked straight out of a high-school production but improved
with towering black panels punctured with light to represent Sarastro’s
circle. Costumes by Elisabeth Binder-Neururer were designed in the local
tradition of semi-rococo but reached their apex in the colourful Lederhosen-
and Tracht-inspired garb of the Papageno family. The dancing, feathered
children of the finale reaffirmed Salzburg as an anachronism Mozart might never
have imagined could exist over three centuries after his death.
Click here for cast and production information.