Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
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