Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
11 Feb 2013
Erik Satie, Socrate and Igor Stravinsky. Renard and other works
This concert was part of a greater weekend of concerts at the Southbank
Centre looking at Paris during the second and third decades of the twentieth
century, the weekend itself part of the year-long Rest is Noise
An arresting opening — which I initially feared would irritate, but
which actually worked very well — was provided by Harriet Walter’s
narration, replete with East Coast accent, presenting a first-person sketch,
written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, of the life of Winnaretta Singer. Daughter
of the inventor of the sewing machine, Isaac Singer, Winnaretta went on to
become the celebrated musical patroness, Princess Edmund de Polignac,
commissioning both Socrate and Renard, though Diaghilev’s
machinations and Stravinsky’s duplicity — at least according to this
account — meant that her salon would not host the latter work’s premiere.
Walter’s delivery of the script was just as excellent as one would expect
from this fine actress: never overdone, effortlessly convincing. I wondered a
little about the Princess’s, or rather Wertenbaker’s, claim that patrons go
unsung. Not in my lectures they do not; indeed, I sometimes wonder whether I
over-emphasise their role. I also wondered whether a male patron would have
received quite so sympathetic a treatment: might we not at least have been led
to think, ‘why should someone inherit all that money in the first place?’
But those are quibbles, and the narration, heard before Socrate and
before Renard seemed to go down well with the audience.
Satie’s Socrate: oh dear. I tried; I really did. Doubtless some
will say that was the problem. But for me, its sole redeeming feature was the
excellence of the performances from Barbara Hannigan and Reinbert de Leeuw.
Cool, white, monotonous, with the occasional subtle colouring of the vocal
line: soprano and pianist were really beyond reproach. However, a work, like so
much of Satie, which seems set up to forestall criticism — whatever you say
against it, someone will respone, ‘well that is the point’ — had better
be of Stravinskian quality if, as, for instance The Rake’s Progress
does, it attempts that disabling tactic. Frankly, it makes one long even for
the dullest of Stravinsky: Apollo, or Orpheus, say. Its
lengthy ‘setting’ of Plato — is it really a ‘setting’ at
all, when it seems to respond no more to the text than Rossini does in much of
his Stabat Mater? — droans on and on, until, by the time the third
part, ‘La Mort de Socrate’ opens, one feels as if one has been suffering
the same composer’s Vexations. What a strange conception of ancient
Greece this is; it almost makes one sympathise with Nietzsche’s venom against
Socrates. The artists, admirably controlled throughout, made the most of the
slight suggestion of drama as we heard of the poison’s arrival, but if the
best one can say about something is that it is somewhat less tedious than the
music of Philip Glass, perhaps it is time to wonder whether Satie has an
Emperor, let alone clothes.
Stravinsky’s invention thus struck the hall like a thunderbolt. It always
does, at least in good performances, and these performances were certainly
that. A string quartet (Jonathan Morton, Joan Atherton, Paul Silverthorne, Tim
Gill, all standing save for the cellist) drawn from the London Sinfonietta
brought us the composer’s astonishing Three Pieces. The work’s
strangeness, its utter dissociation from anything one might consider to
constitute a string quartet repertoire and tradition still shocks — and
certainly did so here. Defiantly post-Rite of Spring, this is in many
senses a far more radical break with ‘tradition’, as unique as Le Roi
des étoiles. Tightly focused rhythms and — as soon as one bothered to
listen — a profusion of melody were hallmarks of this account. The final
piece brought a sense of the hieratic, but what a contrast it made with the
mere tedium of Satie. Here was music. Timothy Lines offered strong performances
of the Three Pieces for clarinet, written five years later in 1919. If
the first offered a gentler, one is almost tempted to say pastoral,
sound-world, it remained utterly Stravinskian in its evident
‘construction’. And in any case, there was nothing remotely gentle about
its joyous successor, nor to the third, which seemed to anticipate the world of
Renard. The performance was rich in tonal and dynamic differentiation,
rhythm propelling the notes and their ‘meaning’. The 1920
Concertino for string quartet followed, though oddly the programme had
no notes on it. Again, the utterly individual approach of the composer not only
to the medium of the string quartet but to stringed instruments themselves was
immediately announced. A kaleidoscope of what Stravinsky would have hated one
to call ‘moods’ — unless, of course, he arbitrarily decided to use the
word, as in his Norwegian Moods — revealed itself during the
work’s brief span. Here was concision to rival Webern, yet long before
Stravinsky’s serialist turn. It sounded almost akin to a mechanised Beethoven
Hannigan turned director for the wonderful burlesque, Renard, given in
concert performance, Colour and rhythm were very much to the fore in a
performance for which she seemed to act more as enabler than dictator. Old
Stravinsky hands that the London Sinfonietta are, that is doubtless the right
way around. Thematic consistency during and after the opening March was
especially noteworthy; this was no mere collection of episodes. Even when the
Cock turned languid, ‘Sizhu na dubu...’ (‘I’m on my perch...’),
rhythmic underpinning remained tight. There was room for seduction too, from
the Fox with his cake. But above all what struck was the visceral nature of
Stravinsky’s score, so truthful a representation of the or at least a
childhood imagination. The London Sinfonietta’s performance could not be
faulted; the four vocal soloists proved fine advocates too. If the tenors
perhaps captured greater attention, that is probably more a reflection of score
than performance. Why do we not hear this work more often?
Satie: Socrate; Stravinsky: Three Pieces for string quartet, Three
Pieces for clarinet, Concertino, Renard.
Barbara Hannigan (soprano/director), Daniel Norman (tenor); Edgaras
Montvidas (tenor); Roderick Williams (bass); John Molloy (bass); Reinbert de
Leeuw (piano); Timothy Lines (clarinet); Harriet Walter (narrator);Timberlake
Wertenbaker (script writer); London Sinfonietta. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London,
Sunday 10 February 2013.