Recently in Performances
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.
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?
23 Dec 2012
Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?
Well, so many don’t nowadays, it appears to me, judging by the critical
reception of Robert le Diable at the ROH. Rum-ti-tum? We recall
Macbeth, Rigoletto, Trov and even Trav being characterised
thus, popular fare but risible or blush- making, yet those works now command
the highest respect.
True, Meyerbeer lacks the high melodic genius of Verdi,
whose every work is both obviously his yet paradoxically also has its own
unique sound world; but I think the problem is not that. We are out of sympathy
with the social world for which such works were conceived.
Marina Poplavskaya as Alice and John Relyea as Bertram
Long, leisurely five-acters? Plots elevated to the level of the hieratic?
Above all comfortable plushness, with little apparent intellectual bite? All
that suited opera audiences of the time, but something more is needed for
survival, and you don’t have to listen very hard to discern it. Skill in the
construction of a theatre piece, to start with: how different do the two long
scenes between Bertram/Raimbaut and Bertram/Alice sound, for instance,
reflecting Bertram’s manipulation of each of these victims and their
differing reactions (no pushover, she); how each character is delineated
through the music, their unfolding scenas certainly not generic as is
the libretto; how atmospheric are the orchestral passages, even though perhaps
some might long for Weber.
All this would go for naught, of course, without a fine performance. Do you
ever have that feeling, when the lights dim and the first notes arise, that all
will be well this evening, and there is nowhere else you would rather be? It
was that way on Saturday last, softly bathed in pellucid sound (Daniel Oren
conducting) perfectly judged for the auditorium, without that muddiness that
often tells you you’re in for a sticky ride; above all the singers had the
measure of the style: to my ear French display opera has a certain chic
restraint, without the glitz of its Italian counterpart, and whilst Damrau
would have been starrier, Ciofi (yes, an Italian) was most touching, every
cadence perfectly placed. Poplavskaya excelled herself, with an unusual
combination of staunchness and thrilling ease; Hymel paid Meyerbeer the
compliment of taking him seriously, and was utterly believable in the role,
which he made seem child’s play to sing; Relyea has been seriously
undervalued, and Jean-Francois Borras was a delightful new discovery for me.
And the Chorus excelled themselves.
A scene from Robert le Diable
Which brings me to Laurent Pelly’s production. When it comes to the
chorus, modern directors seem to model themselves on Eisenstein. Here there is
a difference: Pelly’s chorus is sometimes Greek, hovering en masse, but
always in articulated geometrical forms — think Pina Bausch dance, where we
see individuals impelled however to move in unison. So in Act 1 we see the
knights tightly choreographed but moving like lava when the occasion demands;
later they assume a diamond formation, as if grouped in a giant boardgame.
Sounds odd, maybe, but it has the effect of throwing the main characters into
individual relief, and aiding the flow of the plot.
The nuns’ music surprised me (I must have been confusing them with
Casanova’s); it is hard to guess what the original movement must
have been, but the costumes were closely modelled on lithographs of that time,
the music perhaps self-indulgently long and unvaried, the dancers nicely
distinguished even if all in the same plight. Only ten, on this big space? I
thought; but then the whole chorus flooded on, swamping the stage, even more
deshabilles, and equally frantic, in a splendid coup de
théâtre. Costumes might well have been taken from contemporary
miniatures; settings from prints of the time (the stage department excelled
itself in their manipulation).
I came away elated, thinking that the composer had achieved an integrated
piece of work on a high level, with that afterglow you get following a really
good meal. I guess that’s what the original audiences felt too. Will
Meyerbeer catch on? Don’t put money on it. Maybe you have to be a bourgeois
Marxist to like it?!
here for additional production information.