Recently in Reviews
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.’
19 Jan 2013
Baroque treasures at the Barbican, London
The Barbican is going have a bit of a baroque moment next month. Joyce DiDonato will be bringing her Drama Queens programme, then there will be complete performances of Handel's Radamisto and Lully's Phaeton.
Accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco directed by Dmitry Skinkovsky, Joyce DiDonato will be performing a selection of arias from great queen roles in baroque opera, on February 6. She performs arias for Cleopatra by Handel (from Giulio Cesare) and Hasse (from Antonio e Cleopatra). Hasse married Handel's leading lady, Francesca Cuzzoni, and settled in Naples, but Antonio e Cleopatra dates from early in his career when he was based in Naples. DiDonato will also be singing one of Rossane's arias from Handel's Alessandro, written for the great trio of singers Senesino, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordone with Rossane being sung by Bordone.
An earlier generation is represented by Ottavia's final aria from Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea.
Other baroque composers in the recital are rather less well known. Giuseppe Orlandini (1676 -1760) worked extensively in Italy, but his opera Arsace was premiered at the Kings Theatre in London in 1721. DiDonato will be singing an aria from his opera Berenice which dates from 1725. Geminiano Giacomelli was Italian born, but worked extensively in Vienna. His opera Merope was premiered in Venice in 1734, and DiDonato sings an aria from this opera. Giovanni Porta was another Italian composer who worked in London, his opera Numitore was premiered at the Kings Theatre in 1720. We will be hearing an aria from Ifigenia in Aulide, which was premiered in Monaco in 1738
The orchestra will also be playing instrumental music including a Vivaldi concerto written for Dresden, and the passacaglia from Handel's Radamisto.
We get the complete Radamisto on Feburary 10 with David Daniels singing the title role in a concert performance with Harry Bicket conducting the English Concert with Patricia Bardon as Zenobia, Luca Pisaroni as Tiridate, Elizabeth Watts as Tigrane, Brenda Rae as Polisenna and Robert Rice as Farasmene
Radamisto dates from 1720 and is one of the most serious of Handel’s serious operas (opera seria) written for the Royal Academy in the earlier part of his career. His aristocratic patrons who ran the academy were interested in seeing noble characters put through difficult situations, morally uplifting. The plot can sometimes seem convoluted, and there is no light relief, but Handel’s response to the characters difficulties is wonderfully subtle and humane. After the first performance in April 1720, Handel radically re-cast the opera so that the title role could be sung by the alto castrato Senesino, recently arrived in London. This gives us the unusual situation where one of Handel’s revisions to his Italian operas is as valid artistically as the original. The English Concert will be performing the revised version.
Prior to their Barbican performance, they are performing the work at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris and at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
Then on 10 March we move to Paris, as Christoph Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques perform Lully’s Phaeton with Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Ingrid Perruche, Isabelle Druet, Sophie Bevan, Andrew Foster-Williams, Matthew Brook, Benoît Arnould, Cyril Auvity, Virginie Thomas. Lully wrote the opera to a libretto by his regular collaborator Philippe Quinault and the work premiered at Versailles in 1683. Its plot, dealing with the hubris of Phaeton, son of the Sun god, can be seen as an allegory of the punishment awaiting those mortals who dare to raise themselves as high as the sun (i.e. the Sun King, Louis XIV). The opera is the 10th of Lully’s 14 tragedies lyriques. As with all operas in the form, it mixes aria with choruses and extensive dance episodes which are integrated into the plot.