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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
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.