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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.’
16 Nov 2012
Alagna sings Nemorino - L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House, London,
One of the main reasons for interest in the Royal Opera’s latest revival of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was that tenor Roberto Alagna had chosen to return to the role of Nemorino. Though he had sung Nemorino earlier in his career, he had never sung the role at Covent Garden. The other cast members were of a high order too, with Alexandra Kurzak as Adina, Ambrogio Maestri as Dulcamara and Fabio Capitanucci as Belcore. So plenty of reasons for seeing the revival, which I caught on opening night 13 November 2012.
Laurent Pelly’s production had been revived by Daniel Dooner, the results in Chantal Thomas’s designs looked handsome and it was all charmingly entertaining without being heartless. Pelly and Thomas had chosen to set the opera in a small Italian farming town in the 1950’s. Wheat and straw bales were a big feature of the set, with a wheat-field as part of the backdrop and piles of straw bales used extensively in large stacks as the location for much of the action. The other significant visual effect was the use of transport. The chorus moved around on bicycles, vespas and mopeds, Dulcamara arrived in a huge truck and Nemorino appeared driving a tractor (whilst drunk) towards the end of act 2.
Neither the set nor the production really pushed the 1950’s setting too far, which meant that the piece worked very well. Donizetti’s opera is about a small town farming community and Pelly’s lovely detailed observation ensured that we were drawn into the doings of this particular one. The chorus were very much part of the action, and helped create the mis-en-scene for the soloists. The entire performance had the feeling of a group enterprise, an ensemble piece despite the presence of star names; it was all the better for it.
Alagna can no longer sing Nemorino with the grace and beauty of tone that he once could. But his determination to sing Nemorino whilst also singing Radames and Enee is rather admirable and has the feel of an earlier age when these roles were often taken by singers with larger voices. Of course, all this would be as naught if Alagna could not still sing the role. Granted, his voice was at times slightly louder than ideal, but he negotiated all the passagework deftly, if not ideally neatly. His voice did not always quite behave as he wanted, a couple of high notes were compromised, but he still produced some lovely tone and his account of Una furtiva lagrima was still a thing of beauty on its own terms. If you accepted that stylistically he was channelling Puccini, then there was a great deal to admire.
But it was Alagna as an actor, as a stage creature, who made the performance. From the outset he was completely charming, with a winning manner and an extreme physicality to the performance (to the extent of even losing his clothes) which could have turned into a stunt but in fact became part of his delightful characterisation of Nemorino. I have to admit that I went into the performance a little dubious, but came away entranced. Alagna’s performance was very much team work, he worked with his other performers and was clearly having a whale of a time.
It helped, of course, that he had such a strong team around him. Alexandra Kurzak has sung in the production before and remains a complete delight in this repertoire. Her capabilities in singing elaborate bel canto roles is astounding, but she is not just a technical delight she uses her technical abilities to create a real character. Her Adina was wonderfully pert and flirtatious, but even from the outset it was obvious that she felt something for Nemorino, and Kurzak allowed us to see this and developed it.
There were plenty of vocal delights on the way as well, but everything combined superbly in her account of her act 2 aria Prendi, per me sei libero where her feeling for Nemorino is displayed, combined with technical finesse.
Dulcamara was played by Ambrogio Maestri with rotund good humour. He was more the loveable rogue than the edgy character in some versions of this opera and I understand that the satire was more pointed when Pelly’s production was new. Maestri is very adept at using his bulk to devastating comic effect, but his account of the role was also very finely sung. It was buffo, but with a very clear musical line and very good it was too. Maestri also had a number of delightful tricks, such as interpolating little whistling noises when singing the comic duet with Adina during the wedding scene in act 2. But you felt that Maestri was less interesting in comic business for its own sake, and more intent on using it to create character.
Fabio Capitanucci (last seen here as Chorebe in Les Troyens) was finely fatuous Belcore, but one with a creditable swagger who would clearly be of interest to the ladies. Much of the humour came from the fact that his troops consisted of just two recruits, two mismatched boys one tall one small, both in ill-fitting suits. The way that, at the end he smoothly transferred his affections to Giannetta (Susana Gaspar) made it clear that Belcore was a survivor.
Gaspar (currently one of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists), was announced as suffering from a cold, but there were thankfully no audible effects and she made a charming Gianetta.
Bruno Campanella conducted; he got off to a slow start, and there were one or two hiccups in ensemble between pit and stage in the more complex choruses. But as Campanella got into the swing of things, there was much to enjoy in his performance. I have to confess, that I do rather prefer this opera in a smaller opera house, but he managed to get a nicely sparkling performance from the orchestra.
This was a joyous evening in the theatre, just what L’elisir d’amore should be.