Recently in Performances
“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.
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.
10 Jan 2013
Echoes of Venice
The opening concert of the Wigmore Hall’s spring season exemplified the high standards of intelligent musicianship and imaginative programming so typical of the Hall’s artists. Soprano Carolyn Sampson and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth presented a thoughtful, inventive programme, ‘Echoes of Venice’, alternating tender and impassioned songs of love with striking instrumental pieces.
Monteverdi’s ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’ (‘So sweet is the torment’) perfectly expresses the Renaissance paradox of the exquisite pain of love. An ambitious, extensive instrumental ground accompanies a largely unadorned vocal line. Fittingly the fresh, open simplicity of Sampson’s floating high notes were complemented by a slightly more enriched lower register. But, although the sentiment of the text was supremely captured, and nuances of tone employed to convey the peaks of intensity — ‘Per foco e per gelo/ Riposo non ho’ (‘between fire and ice/ I have no rest’) — it was a pity that Sampson so neglected the consonants; for her ornamentation was delicate and judicious, complementing the theorbo’s more dramatic inflections and articulation, and she and Wadsworth built to a deep, affecting warmth for the pining lover’s final expression of hope that his passion will one day be reciprocated.
The first half of the recital was dominated by the music of Barbara Strozzi, a singer and the composer of eight volumes of, chiefly secular, vocal music published in Venice between 1644 and 1664. Sampson and Wadsworth made a convincing case for her to be considered more than a ‘historical novelty’, revealing the grace and spontaneity of Strozzi’s style, the musical motif and form responding naturally and intuitively to the text. In ‘Rissolvetevi, pensieri’ (‘Resolve, thoughts’), the poet-speaker’s troubled restlessness is conveyed by the vocal repetition of melodic and rhythmic phrases, as Strozzi frequently repeats small units of text creating a complex, lengthy aria. Sampson’s vibrato-light soprano nimbly tumbled with lucid fluidity through falling triadic shapes above Wadsworth’s searching, wandering bass line.
Although the title-pages of all but one of Strozzi’s books of madrigals announce their contents as ‘arie’, ‘ariette’ or ‘cantate’, in fact her works employ a diversity of style and form and the extended ‘L’amante segreto’ (‘The secret lover’) — its refrain built on a descending tetrachord — is more ‘operatic’ in impact. A richly inflected recitative-like idiom, as the singer urges herself to have courage and fortitude in the face of fear, contrasted powerfully with the quiet stillness of Sampson’s admission, ‘Ma io voglio morire/ Piuttosto ch’il mio mal venga a scopire’ (‘But I would rather die/ than that my sickness come to be discovered’). Wadsworth was not afraid to signal such changes of mood with surprising sharpness of attack and dynamic variation. The concluding entreaty to Cupid to throw down his mighty arrows revealed the moving rich depth of Sampson’s mezzo, which she also put to excellent use in ‘Che si può fare’ (‘What can be done’). In the latter, the performers obviously enjoyed the increasingly piquant dissonances — as the singer laments what can be done if heaven refuses to relieve her suffering and the planets rain down disasters — before such restless anxiety was ultimately resolved in a sweet tierce de picardie.
‘Che si può fare’ shares its lengthy ground with Giovanni Kapsberger’s ‘Passacaglia’ from the Libro quarto d’intavolatura di chitarrone, and Wadsworth effected a seamless transition between the preceding instrumental number and Strozzi’s song. This was one of several instrumental interludes interspersed between the vocal items, and while such repertoire is somewhat limited in expressive range, the toccatas, chaconnes and dances of Kapsberger and Alessandro Piccinini offered a pleasant contrast. Wadsworth’s decorative traceries were articulated with relaxed ease, as melodic motifs came to the fore and then were subsumed once more within the elaborate accompanying textures, suggesting hidden mysteries. Piccinini’s ‘Corrente terza’ was particularly notable for Wadsworth’s light, rhythmic finger work and the effective use of contrasting registers.
Francesca Caccini, the daughter of the virtuoso singer and composer, Guilio, was probably the most prominent and successful female musician of the period, and her ‘Lasciatemi qui solo’ followed the interval. ‘Leave me here alone’ begins the singer, and this was indeed an intimate, restrained rendering, the stillness only occasionally enlivened by gentle expressive flourishes. A brief moment of energy — ‘Felicissimi amanti/ Tornate al bel diletto’ (‘Happiest lovers,/ return to fair pleasure’) — gestured by a sudden change in the accompaniment texture, immediately gave way to languid minor-key yearning for death, Sampson’s final colourless whisper, ‘Gia sono esangu’e smorto’ (‘I am already bloodless and pale’), seemingly fulfilling the poet’s desire.
Despite the similarly despairing title of Benedetto Ferrari’s ‘Voglio di vita uscir’ (‘I wish to leave life’), a joyful lightness characterises this song and betrays the poet-speaker’s insistent avowals as a deliberate ploy to win his lover’s affection, and it offered a welcome moment of playfulness. Strozzi’s ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’ (‘Amorous Heraclitus’), a dramatic ‘scena’ was notable for the flexibility of Sampson’s recitative and the rich sheen of the more lyrical moments. Here, as throughout, there was an impressive degree of communication before the performers.
Playing straight from the heart, Sampson and Wadsworth presented a thoughtful, enchanting selection of little-known seventeenth-century music, always alert to nuances of phrase and colour, but never mannered or overly ostentatious. The performers’ evident pleasure in this music was undoubted matched by the charmed Wigmore Hall audience.
[Monteverdi ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’; Strozzi ‘Rissolvetevi pensieri’; Piccinini Toccata X, Ciaccona in Partite Variate; Strozzi ‘L’amante segreto’; Kapsberger Passacaglia from Libro quarto d'intavolatura di chitarrone; Strozzi ‘Che si può fare’; Caccini ‘Lasciatemi morire’; Ferrari ‘Voglio di vita uscir’; Piccinini Toccata VI, Partite variate sopra quest’ aria francese detta l’Alemana, Corrente terza; Strozzi ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’.]
Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo; Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 3rd January, 2013