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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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
23 Jan 2013
Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall - Warlock, Britten
Surveying British chamber and instrumental music written between the 1890s and WWII, the Nash Ensemble’s Wigmore Hall residency series, Dreamers of Dreams, has illuminated the creativity and originality of British musical life during this period, revealing the shared and the idiosyncratic preoccupations of composers; the intertwined biographies of musicians; the influence of key individual performers on repertoire, style and idiom; the dialogue between old and new; and the prevailing shadows of war and irreversible change.
This recital was enriched by all these elements, its constituent works informed by an interest in the nation’s folk traditions as well as Celtic romanticism and custom; by expanding boundaries and new musical and geographical horizons; by elegiac melancholy and also by optimism, freshness and renewal.
The desolate tones of Peter Warlock’s darkly prophetic The Curlew, for tenor, flute, cor anglais and string quartet, dominated the first half of the concert. Setting four poems by W.B. Yeats, Warlock evokes an almost unalleviated mood of despair; much of the vitality of the music derives from the composer’s uncannily apposite setting of the text, and tenor Mark Padmore’s eloquent, unmannered delivery of the rhythmically elaborate text did much to communicate the vividness and immediacy of the work. The opening instrumental mood-painting was moving and atmospheric: the plangent cor anglais (Gareth Hulse) announcing the eponymous bird’s plaintive lament, answered by the gentle repetitive murmuring of the flute’s peewit (Philippa Davies). The players adroitly established the bleak vista before the first, delayed entry of the voice, “O curlew, cry no more in the air”. Throughout the instrumental fabric was clearly articulated, both solos and ensemble presenting thematic wisps with delicacy and dolefulness - a perfect illustrative backdrop for the melancholic texts. The string players wove an intricate web of tremolo and sul ponticello traceries, complementing the woodwind’s mournful diminuendos and echoes.
Padmore shaped the vocal lines intelligently, although perhaps he did not fully reveal the emotional disturbance at the heart of the work, for the text and score demand that we be truly discomforted and perturbed. But there was affecting contrast and drama. With the opening of final stanza of ‘The Withering of the Boughs’, the tenor evoked tentative intimations of hope and new life, warmed by a string rocking motif, which was then immediately and unequivocally destroyed by the voice’s exposed quasi parlando repetition: “The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.” The composer instructs the singer to use a “low tone - almost a whisper” and Padmore executed this challenging line with consummate control.
Yeats’ pensive Celtic lyricism and the plaintive cor anglais colouring of Warlock’s songs harked back to the opening work of the evening, Arnold Bax’s Oboe Quintet, the melodies of which mimic, though do not quote, Irish folksong and dance. Composed at the end of 1922, this composition was pioneering in its integration of oboe and strings. In the opening movement, Gareth Hulse’s wistful oboe figures rose with graceful melancholy from the strings’ introductory elegiac chords; and the muted pianissimo ending - the upper strings’ tranquillity disturbed by the cello’s insistent repetitions and the oboe’s final curlicue - was spell-binding.
But, while asked to create an endless range of textures and timbres, the strings do more than simply accompany. In the second movement, violinist Marianne Thorson spun a silky espressivo thread, accompanied by rich string chords, a beautiful contrast to the subsequent improvisatory flourishes from the oboe. Laurence Power conveyed the power and vitality of Bax’s writing for the viola. Moreover, despite the prevailing ambience of lament, lively folk gestures and rhythms provide energy and drive, culminating in an animated, jig-like final movement. The shadow of war darkens the hues of the closing bars, however, and the Nash Ensemble brought the piece to a sober, forlorn, but not sentimental, conclusion.
Britten’s Songs from the Chinese for voice and guitar followed the interval. These ancient texts, with their mild formality and distance, suited Padmore perfectly. In ‘The Old Lute’ - a setting of Arthur Waley’s translation of a poem by Emperor Wu-ti of the Han dynasty, who ruled more than 2000 years ago - Padmore floated the higher pitches and elongated the syllables to create a calm quietness, evoking the sound of the lute, now dusty and faded, but whose sound “is still cold and clear”. In contrast, the rhythm drive of Wu-ti’s ‘The Autumn Wind’, with its short phrases and vigorous consonants, enabled the tenor to re-create the dynamism of the racing wind, and to evoke the unstoppable momentum of passing time. Guitarist Craig Ogden sculpted crystalline accompaniments, establishing a fitting airiness and transparency. Together the performers ensured that the concentrated focus of the songs, and the formal and thematic unity of Britten’s score, was clearly communicated.
The evening ended with a rare opportunity to hear Vaughan Williams’ C Minor string quartet of 1898. Although one senses the young composer searching for an individual musical voice - the influence of Dvorak, Brahms and Tchaikovsky is evident - there is much of merit in these four movements, and the medium is convincingly handled, the string textures accomplished. The inner movements, Andantino and Intermezzo: Allegretto characteristically make use of Elizabethan modality and English folksong to create a meditative ambience, while the Variazione con finale fugato which concludes the work is a rhythmically invigorating presto. The four string players of the Nash Ensemble gave a committed performance of what essentially feels like ‘work in progress’; the ensemble work and attention to detail was exemplary and the players exhibited considerable technical mastery.
Given the thoughtfulness and imagination which has clearly informed the Nash Ensemble’s programming throughout this series, the inclusion of Elgar’s three tuneful yet rather light-weight violin encores - Salut d’Amour, Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit - seemed an odd decision. Thorsen and Ian Brown (piano) performed them with refinement and artistry but the works seemed out of context here.