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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.’
31 Jan 2013
Soile Isokoski - Wigmore Hall - Sallinen
Soile Isokoski and Maria Viitasalo made a welcome return to theWigmore Hall, London. Their recital was a masterclass in what singing really should be about: not simply sound production, but the expression of meaning.
Isokoski has been singing Hugo Wolf since very early in her career.Her style is well suited to Wolf's songs. No arch artifice here, no flashy exaggeration. Isokoski's natural, unforced simplicity portrays the young women in these songs as fundamentally nice people, even when they're flirting coquettishly. Auch kleine Dinge could be interpreted with sarcasm, since the lover 's main attrribute is that he's tiny. Isokoski's gentleness breathes sincerity. "Bedenkt, wie klein ist der Olivenfrucht", she declares, then delivers the punchline "und wird um ihre Güte doch Gesucht".
Isokoski has performed Berlioz Nuits d'été (op 7) many times. This was not quite as incandescent as I've heard her sing it in the past, but as compensation it was an opportunity to concentrate on listening to her technique. Her foundations are so solid that you can admire her phrasing and carefully controlled modulation. If the lustre of her top was less than perfect, she made up for that with rich, almost mezzo warmth in the lower ranges. A voice might not be perfect at every time, but a really good singer knows when to use her strengths to communicate. No listener should expect recording-type results every time. Far better, I think, to hear someone like Isokoski manage her resources so wisely.
When Isokoski sang Richard Strauss Drei Lieder der Ophelia op 67 1918, she showed why she's such a good Strauss singer. Her Vier letzte Lieder recorded in 2003, conducted by Marek Janowski, is outstanding, even in a market full of good performances. Since Ophelia is a character from Hamlet, Strauss's settings lend themselves to dramatization. "Wie erkenn' ich mein Treulieb?" asks Isokoski sweetly, so the horror of the answer cuts sharply. "Er ist tot und lange hin". When she sings about the naked corpse in Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloss, her voice transforms as if she's witnessing a miracle. "Kein Trauen bringt Gewinn". This connects to the Christian prayer in Karl Simrock's German translation.
Isokoski also regularly sings the songs of Charles Ives. Many Americans in Ives's time were recent migrants, so Isokoski's heavily accented English works rather well, creating an image of America as a vibrant melting pot. In On the Counter (1920) Ives satirizes "the same old sentimental sound" of popular songs by writing rolling circular figures for the piano. Isokoski sings the words "I love you" in such a humourous way that you can hear why Ives couldn't stand trite tunes. Not all divas can let their hair down emotionally but Isokoski hums and whistles with such gusto that she evokes the merry crowd in the opera house in Memories A) Very pleasant . This isn't the Met, full of reverence, but an "opera house" closer to the Opry, where people went to have fun and didn't care what anyone else thought.
Aulis Sallinen's Nelja laulua unesta (Four Dream Songs) (1972) are connected to his opera Ratsumies (The Horseman). There are probably more operas written in Finland than anywhere else, and Sallinen is a major composer. Soile Isokoski has made them a speciality, taking them into her repertoire at a very early stage in her career. .Anyone who has heard her sing Sibelius Luonnotar will understand why, for Sallinen's songs are powerful, unleashing supernatural, superhuman forces.
The cycle begins with a chilling piano introduction, suggesting snowfall and driving winds. A Man Made of Sleep appears, but what does he signify? The songs require extreme control of range." Hän ei nuku nukuttamalla", sings Isokoski, leaping suddenly up the scale from low, rumbling incantation. In Finnish each vowel is pronounced clearly, and there are many vowels in each word, often with umlauts. The language itself shapes this music, and Sallinen repeats phrases to maximize the impact. "Nukkuu unta näkemättä, ei sitä uni herätä" (he is sleeping without dreaming, no dreaming will awake him). The pace cannot be rushed, syllables must resonate.
The third song, On kolme unta susäkkäin (Three dreams each within each) is perhaps the most disturbing and unsettling piece in the group. The piano tolls a staccato sequence, while the voice intones mysteriously. A woman is dreaming and within her womb, an unborn child is dreaming, too. The mood is desolate, and Isokoski sings as if she's chanting a rune. "Minun täytyy syntyä ja koul" (I must be born and must die). Yet the line rises sharply upward, Isokoski's voice reaching crescendi before the sudden mood change in the last phrase. From thence, it's as if something powerful has been released. The final song is Ei mikään virta, (There is no stream that journeys so swiftly as life itself). The final song hurtles forward. Words are repeated urgently,turbulently, Isokoski's voice crisp and agile. "Kulkeva, kulkeva" (moving, moving) was enunciated high and clear despite the choppy pace. A tour de force, greatly appreciated.