Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
10 Nov 2012
Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Marking Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday came a BBC Total Immersion
weekend at the Barbican: a double-bill of Knussen’s two operas written in
collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are and
Higgledy Piggledy Pop! on Saturday, followed by a day of two chamber
concerts, a film, and an orchestral concert conducted by the composer himself
This co-production of the two operas with the Aldeburgh Festival and
the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association was a delight. Netia Jones employs a
cunning, loving mix of animation and live action to retain as much as humanly
possible of Sendak’s celebrated drawings. Sometimes we see more of one than
the other, though the principal characters — the boy Max in Where the
Wild Things Are and Jennie the Sealyham Terrier in Higglety Pigglety
Pop! — are ‘real’ throughout. How much lies their — or our? —
imagination? What is real anyway? The use of animation for the monsters save at
the beginning and end of the first opera — we see the singers go behind a
screen and emerge at the end, and of course we hear the, throughout —
heightens our questioning. The screen in neatly reversed in Higglety
Pigglety Pop! so that we see the secondary characters both on stage and on
film. Again, what is real? Are not both varieties of apparition and/or
depiction? In the land of the Mother Goose World Theatre, all the world’s a
stage — a tribute, surely, as much to Stravinsky and his Rake’s
Progress tribute to Mozart, the latter parodied in Knussen’s final
scene, as to Ravel. (Both Higglety and Don Giovanni end
'outside' their dramas, in bright if tarnished D major.) The repetitions of
that gala performance, the time-honoured tradition of a play within a play,
unsettle as they should. What do they mean? When will they stop? Again, what,
and who, is ‘real’? That is very much the stuff of imaginary worlds,
strongest for some in childhood, but for many of us just as powerful in
subsequent stages of our lives.
Crucially, the sense of fantasy in libretto and production is at the very
least equally present in Knussen’s scores, kinship with Ravel especially
apparent in Where the Wild Things Are. And we all know who composed
the most perfect operatic depiction of childhood. Stravinsky sometimes seems
close too, for instance in the fiercer rhythmically driven music of the second
scene (Mama and her hoover), the Symphony in Three Movements coming to
my mind. And the musical material itself of course delightfully pays tribute
both to Debussy’s La boîte à joujoux and most memorably to
Boris Godunov, direct quotation reminiscing of the Tsar’s ill-fated
coronation when Max is crowned King of all Wild Things.
A scene from Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Ryan Wigglesworth’s direction was palpably alive to this sense of
orchestral wonder and fantasy, his programme notes an exemplary tribute from
one composer-conductor to another from whom he has learned a great deal. The
tone of performance darkened in tandem with that of the score for Higglety
Pigglety Pop! Detail was meaningful without exaggeration, for instance in
the subtle pointing up of certain intervals associated with different
characters. Those with ears to hear would do so, consciously or otherwise.
Moreover, the orchestra’s response was as assured, as disciplined, as
generous as the conductor’s direction. The Britten Sinfonia was throughout on
outstanding form, thoroughly inside Knussen’s idiom, unfailingly precise
without sacrifice to warmth of tone. Despite relatively chamber-like forces, at
least in the string section (18.104.22.168.4), one often felt that was hearing a
larger orchestra, for this was anything but a small-scale performance. Indeed,
accustomed as I am to hearing the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican,
there were many times when I should not have been surprised to discover that I
had in fact been hearing the LSO.
Claire Booth headed a fine cast for Where the Wild Things Are, her
Max as quicksilver on stage as vocally. Lucy Schaufer proved every inch her
equal as Jennie in Higglety Pigglety Pop! Very much the singing
actress, her deeper mezzo tones were perfectly suited to the darkened tones of
the score. There is something a little dangerous about Jennie and the acting
world of ‘experience’ for which she forsakes her comfortable home — yet
in a sense all children must at some point act similarly. All members of the
two casts, however, were richly deserving of praise, a particular favourite of
mine Graeme Danby’s surreal, apparently innocent Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards.
These performances came across as true company efforts, a state of affairs
doubtless deepened by ‘experience’ in Aldeburgh and Los Angeles.
Where the Wild Things Are
Max: Claire Booth; Mama/Voice of Tzippy: Susan Bickley; Moishe: Christopher
Lemmings; Emil: Graeme Broadbent; Aaron: Jonathan Gunthorpe; Bernard: Graeme
Danby; Tzippy: Charlotte McDougall
Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Jane: Lucy Schaufer; The Potted Plant/Baby: Susanna Andersson; Rhoda/Voice
of Baby’s Mother: Claire Booth; Cat-Milkman/High Voice of Ash Tree:
Christopher Lemmings; Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards: Graeme Danby; Lion/Low Voice of
Ash Tree: Graeme Broadbent
Netia Jones (director, designs); Britten Sinfonia/Ryan Wigglesworth
(conductor). Barbican Hall, Saturday 3 November 2012.