Recently in Performances
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.
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?
12 Feb 2013
Radamisto at Barbican Hall
Handel's Radamisto HWV 12a confirms the Barbican Hall as one of the finest places for baroque in London. Superb performances from David Daniels, Luca Pisaroni, and Patricia Bardon, with Harry Bicket conducting The English Concert from the harpsichord
Performances like this highlight the inherent drama in the music.The comparison between this Barbican Radamisto and the ENO staging in 2010 could hardly have been greater. Although unstaged, Bicket’s Barbican Radamisto was far better theatre because the drama was revealed through good singing.
Harry Bicket’s style is understated — I hate using the cliché “English” — but it works well in a medium-sized space like the Barbican. Handel’s plot may be outrageously exotic, but here the focus was on the characters as human beings, despite the implausible situations in which they find themselves. This isn’t historical drama. Most of us wouldn’t recognize first century Armenia if we tried. At heart, Radamisto is about a family and their power struggles, and the ultimate triumph of married love.
Bicket’s restraint allows the singers to demonstrate the elaborate vocal technique that Handel’s audiences would have thrilled to. Part of the drama in Radamisto is marvelling how long a singer can sustain a line, or decorate a vowel in myriad repeats. Radamisto and Tiridate are duelling with their voices: oneupmanship through trills. David Daniels was particularly effective, showing the gentle side of Radamisto . His “Cara Sposa” was tender: no wonder Zenobia adores him so. Later, when Radamisto and Zenobia duet, the chemistry between Daniels and Patricia Bardon is palpable. She was suffering from an illness, but delivered with the courage Zenobia has to endure suffering. If anything, Bardon’s determination enhanced her portrayal. Daniels sounded genuinely solicitous. The dynamic between the two singers, especially in the Act Two sequences which predicate on the emotional bond between the couple, is so deep that they can see through disguises and the convolutions in the narrative. Tiridate hasn’t a chance.
Luca Pisaroni is an exceptionally good Tiridate. He sings with great authority. He creates Tiridate as a mighty tyrant before whom all enemies quake. Except, of course, Zenobia, whose weapon is love. Pisaroni has presence as well as astounding range. In Act One, his variations on the single vowel “a” are spectacular, suggesting the arsenal he has behind him. The valveless horns of the English Concert extend his burnished tones. This is where period instruments come into their own. Do the horns suggest military glory or the hollowness of power? This subtlety would be lost with modern instruments.
Later, Pisaroni’s “Sì che ti renderai” was so beautiful that the audience rewarded him with the longest, and most genuinely spontaneous applause. Pisaroni’s expressive range shows how Tiridate, formidable as he is, is still “family”. When he sings Tiridate’s magnaminous reconciliation, it feels right, emotionally, although the act would be absurd Realpolitik. In the final scene, the elegant balance of voices suggests that this war-torn family will indeed find harmony.
Elizabeth Watts sang Tigrane. Since this is usually a trouser role, she was dressed in 18th century male costume. At the ENO Radamisto, the part was played as burlesque. A singer like Elizabeth Watts couldn’t do crude even if she tried, for her timbre is naturally lustrous and Italianate, to the extent that she is far better in dramatic repertoire than in Lieder. Tigrane is the peacemaker in this opera, not a figure of derision. Watts’s warm timbre fills out the generosity inherent in Tigrane’s personality. Brenda Rae sang Polissena and Robert Rice sang Farasmane.
Cast and production information:
Radamisto: David Daniels, Zenobia : Patrica Bardon., Tiiridate : Luca Pisaroni, Tigrane : Elizabeth Watts, Polissane : Brenda Rae, Farasmane : Robert Rice, Harry Bicket : conductor, The London Concert The Barbican Hall, London, 10th February 2013