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.
06 Feb 2013
Fille du Regiment from San Diego Opera
Born to a very poor family in 1797, Gaetano Donizetti was lucky enough to become the pupil of Johann Simone Mayr, the Maestro di Capella of his native city, who recognized his talent and made sure he received appropriate instruction.
As a young composer who came from a poor family, he had to accept
every possible commission. In 1822, he began to produce light operatic comedies
for Naples. Eventually, he began to write more serious works, but he had an
immense gift for comedy as evidenced by works such as La Fille du
Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), L’Elisir d’Amore
(The Elixir of Love), and Don Pasquale. In 1830, he had a major
international success in Anna Bolena. After that he was invited to
compose in other countries such as France, where the censors seemed easier to
please. In 1838 he left Naples for Paris where, two years later, he produced a
trio of successful operas to French texts, La Fille du Régiment,
Les Martyrs, and La Favorite. He also did an Italian
adaptation of La Fille for La Scala. In 1843, the first United States
performance of the opera took place in French in New Orleans.
On January 29, 2013, San Diego Opera offered La Fille du Régiment
as its first presentation of the season. Emilio Sagi’s production, originally
seen at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Italy, moved the time of the action
from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, just after World War II. Instead
of French soldiers in Austria, we saw American soldiers in France. Designer
Julio Galán gave us a bombed out bar for Act I, and a luxurious salon for Act
II. His costumes included many dull tan army uniforms, but there were more
interesting outfits on the nobility in the second act. Slovakian coloratura
soprano L’ubica Vargicovà who was seen in San Diego previously as Gilda in
Verdi’s Rigoletto, sang Marie. She has also sung the Queen of the
Night in Los Angeles Opera’s The Magic Flute, so Marie’s high
notes and fioritura held no terrors for her. She sang with great
precision and showed excellent comic timing.
Ewa Podleś is the Marquise de Birkenfeld
As her lover, Tonio, Stephen Costello once again showed us the warm, bright
ringing tones of his tenor voice. San Diego has heard him as Romeo and Faust,
but the role of Tonio is much more demanding than either. His virtuosic first
act aria ‘Ah, mes amis,’ is well known for its nine high Cs and Costello
hit each of them exactly in the center of the note, holding the last one with
seeming ease. Naturally, the applause was deafening. For the rest of his role
he was a charming lover who sang with exquisite lyric tones.
San Diego has heard Polish Contralto Ewa Podleś before, both in recital and
in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, but this was her first foray into comedy
there. Vocally, she showed the wide range of her color-filled contralto voice.
She was hilariously funny when, wearing a gorgeous dark red costume, she quoted
a line from Bizet’s Carmen. At the same time she brought out the
Marquise of Berkenfeld’s importance in steering the plot toward its jubilant
Opulent voiced American bass Kevin Burdette was an amusing but believable
military officer who eventually won the heart of the most demanding, but
secretly lonely, Marquise. Soprano Carol Vaness, who is doing more teaching
than singing these days, played the speaking role of the Dutchess of
Krakenthorp. It did not keep her from singing a phrase from San Diego’s next
presentation, Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, however, and that
pleased her many fans in the audience. Malcolm MacKenzie was an entertaining
Hortensio and Scott Sikon an impressive Corporal.
Kevin Burdette is Sgt. Sulpice,L'ubica Vargicová is Marie and Stephen Costello is Tonio
The opera’s chorus under the direction of Charles Prestinari moved as
individuals and maintained precise harmonies. In his San Diego Opera debut,
Maestro Yves Abel conducted with suave French style that brought out the
score’s tonal beauty. His brisk pacing that kept the tension tight. La
Fille is best known for its uniquely difficult tenor aria, but it has much
more to offer than that high wire act. It is filled with glorious music and
charming situations that can be focused to amuse a particular audience. In this
case the Act II guests, some of them major donors to the opera, were announced
as local royalty to the great amusement of many in the audience who knew them
personally. This Donizetti opera is perfection in operatic comedy and it was a
wonderful start for San Diego Opera’s 2013 season.
Cast and Production
Marie: L’ubica Vargicová; Tonio: Stephen Costello; Marquise de
Berkenfeld: Ewa Podleś; Sergeant Sulpice: Kevin Burdette; Corporal: Scott
Sikon; Hortensio: Malcolm Mackenzie; Conductor: Yves Abel; Director: Emilio
Sagi; Scenic and Costume Designer Julio Galán; Lighting Design: Marie