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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.’
09 Jan 2013
Hugo Wolf Songbooks, Wigmore Hall, Kirchschlager, Henschel, Drake
Julius Drake's latest Hugo Wolf Songbooks recital at the Wigmore Hall featured Angelika Kirchschlager and Dietrich Henschel. These singers have very different voices indeed, so Drake's programme made the most of the contrast.
The logic behind the song selections revealed itself as the recital progressed, but the evening started with five Mörike songs which Kirchschlager sings so well. Her distinctive, warm timbre adds depth to Wolf's songs, bringing out the sensuality fundamental to their interpretation. When Kirchschlager sings Wolf, there's nothing precious or effete, even when, as in Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchen, the girl is so young that she cries "Grief ich eine Schlange" while less innocent ears know what she's really snared in her net. Kirchschlager's forte is natural graciousness. She's ideal in Wolf because she's subtle, capturing the delicate charm beneath which Mörike shields dangerous thoughts. In Das verlassene Mägdlein, Wolf writes turbulence into the piano part, expressing the emotional tempest the servant girl feels even though she's attending dutifully to her job. On this occasion, Kirchschlager was singing into words, as if the songs were a vehicle for hochdramatischer grand opera. She's good enough that she was still enjoyable, but it's not her usual style, nor one particularly suited to these songs.
Perhaps this concert was an experiment in turning Wolf's songs into theatre. It's perfectly reasonable to group Wolf's settings of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister poems into a kind of narrative. The saga is so well known that most listeners understand where the songs belong. Kirchschlager, Henschel and Drake presented the three Harfenlieder songs (plus Spottlied) with the three Mignon songs, withPhiline and Kennst du Das Land.
This was a welcome chance to enter into the world of the strange old harper and Mignon. Mignon is very young, but has a horrible backstory of abuse. Kennst du das Land is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, but part of its impact comes from the intense emotions it evokes, emotions almost too extreme to be expressed by a child. Sorrow is central to her personality. "Nun wer die Sensucht kennt, weiss, was ich leide!". The rcihness of Kirchschlager's voice suggests that there are mysteries to Mignon's personality which we may never know. When she sings the downward phrases at the end of Mignon 1 ("und nur ein Gott"), her voices seems to swoon. Julius Drake shows how the phrase is replicated in the piano part, the piano reinforcing what Mignon cannot tell.
In some repertoire, a voice like Dietrich Henschel's is an advantage. Recently he sang Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Ich wandte mich um und sah an alles Unrecht (Ecclesiastical Action) for Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall (read review here) where the harsh, apocalyptic subject requires a singer who can sing forcefully, often in tricky, disjointed phrases. Henschel sang that well, but singing Wolf is a different prospect.. Henschel was acceptable in the Harfenspieler songs, because Goethe deliberately contrasts the ravaged Harper with the angelic Mignon. In the earlier part of the recital, with other Goethe settings, like Prometheus and Grenzen der Menscheit his singing as marred by excessively wide dynamics. Phrases were pulled out of shape, harsh vibrato overcompensating for dry tone. It didn't help that Julius Drake pounded ferociously. He's one of the best pianists for song but here gave his singer no quarter. Henschel's good enough to know when things aren't going well for whatever reason. When Kirchschalger finished singing Philine, Henschel remarked on the final lines "Jeder Tag hat seine Plage, und die Nacht hat ihre Lust". Everyone has bad days sometimes. He then approached Spottlied with gruff good humour, defusing some of the bitter envy in the text, which is a perfectly valid interpretation.
Hugo Wolf been called the "Wagner of the Lied" but this refers to the way he rethought the relationship between poetry and song. Indeed, Wolf's sensitivity to miniature nuances precludes Wagnerian treatment. While it was good to hear the Wilhelm Meister songs together, they aren't music theatre but songs to be sung as lyrically as is reasonable. The encore was Leopold Lenz (1803-62) Nun wer die Sensucht kennt., for two voices and piano.