Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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