Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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.
02 Feb 2013
Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin
Recent seasons have seen a surge in so-called ‘Holocaust
operas,’ from Peter Androsch’s Spiegelrund, which
premiered in Vienna last week, to Mieczysław Weinberg’s The
Passenger, unveiled with a half-century of delay in Bregenz in 2010.
topic of Nazi politics may be bone-chilling, but when written by survivors,
allows for some emotional distance and reflection. Meanwhile, history has
bequeathed us what may be considered a Holocaust opera in the true sense of the
word. The Staatsoper Berlin is currently performing Viktor Ullmann’s
Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis),which was penned at
the concentration camp Theresienstadt to a libretto by Peter Kien just before
the authors were transported to Auschwitz in 1944. The chamber opera premiered
in Amsterdam 31 years after their death.
Theresienstadt served as both a transit post and a kind of sham for the
extent of the SS forces’ brutality. Leo Baeck, Pavel Haas, and Gideon
Klein count among the conscripted intelligentsia at the ‘model
ghetto,’ where Ullmann was engaged as an official music critic. A
freelance musician schooled in Schönbergian composition, the Silesian native
found himself with more time to compose than ever before. His score creates a
dizzying, but organic blend of serialist passages, sardonic cabaret, and
Mahleresque harmonies while subversively weaving in melodies such as ‘Ein
feste Burg ist unser Gott’ in the final chorus. It is an at once
harrowing and uplifting setting of Kien’s libretto, which provides a
vivid depiction of the inner turmoil but resignation a prisoner found in the
end of life as he knew it.
The story in some ways calls to Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in
its montage-like structure and ambiguous treatment of death. A Loudspeaker
announces in the prologue that the living can no longer laugh and the dying can
no longer lament. Harlekin, better known as Arlecchino, the commedia
dell’arte stock character, is so bored that he begs Death to his
duty. But Death has decided to condemn mortals to eternal life. Kaiser Overall,
whose resemblance to Hitler prevented further rehearsals of the opera in the
summer of 1944, is informed by telephone of a plague whereby none of his
soldiers can die. Only when the war is over does Death, “the
gardener…the final lullaby,” deliver the world from pestilence.
The story further includes a drummer, a soldier and a girl named Bubbikopf.
Kyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat, Gyula Orendt as Kaiser Overall and Alin Anca as Der Lautsprecher | Der Tod
The Staatsoper staging by Mascha Pörzgen, seen January 29 at the
company’s Werkstatt, a small wing used for new music theater,
recreates the opera’s surreal qualities while maintaining a tasteful dose
of aesthetic restraint. The roles of Death and the Loudspeaker are cast with a
single bass-baritone (the tireless Alin Anca), who is wheeled in on a
motor-driven stool before revealing the garb of terrorist-like solider. His
exchanges with the sad clown-faced Harlekin are appropriately ambivalent, while
the Drummer assumes the presence of a caricature as she walks through the scene
beating wooden spoons mid-air. Kaiser Overall is a psychotic bureaucrat who
occupies the only hollow space in an all-white set (designs by Cordelia
Matthes). The proscenium moves in closer to the audience following
Harlekin’s eerie lullaby “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.”
The cast, all members of the Staatsoper’s international opera studio,
gave a tight, convincing performance despite vocal unevenness. Anca carried the
show with theatrical verve and a booming bass that at times risked being too
loud for the space. As Harlekin and the soldier in the third scene, Kyungho Kim
did not rise to the same standards of sound quality and diction but was a
moving presence. The soprano Rowan Hellier gave a stand-out performance as the
Drummer, while Narine Yeghiyan, in the role of Bubbikopf, at times sounded
strained. Gyula Orendt gave an earnest performance as the Kaiser. Felix Krieger
led an elegant reading of the score with an ensemble of the Staatskapelle,
although the musicians’ position on a landing to the side of the stage
was not always ideal acoustically (drowning out Orendt in his final aria, the
very Mahlerian ‘Von allem, was geschieht’).The unearthly final
chorus could have been drawn out with more nostalgia, while the counterpoint of
a repeated, descending violin melody gave chills down the spine.
Der Kaiser von Atlantis runs through February 9.