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?
18 Mar 2013
Götterdämmerung at the Staatsoper Berlin
In the final of scene of Götterdämmerung in a new production at
the Staatsoper Berlin, Brünnhilde appears in a flowing pink gown just as the
music has modulated and penetrates the hall of the Gibichungs, represented by
rows of glowing translucent boxes that preserve the dismembered limbs of their
She unfastens the ring—here represented as a sequined hand—from
the arm of Siegfried’s corpse, and moves regally upstage. When video
projections of fire onto a shiny back wall cede to blue swirls of water—the
Rhine overflowing after Valhalla has burned to ash—the fading, ghostly image
of a woman with her mouth agape hovers like a virtual nightmare. A crowd of
Gibichungs, dressed in drab civil suits with touches of barbaric fur, turn
toward the back wall and stare at an image of excavated human remains. As their
expressions reveal signs of cognizance, a giant replica of the marble relief
Human Passions by Jef Lambeaux, a depiction of nude bodies writhing
somewhere between heaven and hell, descends and traps the action behind it.
As program notes by the dramaturge Michael Steinberg explain, this image has
provided a kind of Leitmotif for the Ring cycle by stage team
Guy Cassiers and Enrico Bagnoli, which has unfolded in epic fashion over the
past three years in co-production with La Scala. The opening instalment,
Das Rheingold, culminated in a video projection of the full image; in
Die Walküre, it mutates into a twisting, multi-media pile of bodies.
Cassiers, the director, has set out to address globalization in an age of
virtual reality and pornographic violence, adopting with Bagnoli a streamlined
yet abstract aesthetic. Laser-like red lines that designate warfare in
Walküre reappear as the fragile network (or destiny rope) of the
Norns in Götterdämmerung, and rows of white spears that serve as a
canvas for flickering video projections descend to drive home the notion of
While the visual symbolism of Cassiers and Bagnoli is sometimes too
conceptual to connect with its intellectual underpinnings—now a black mass
which spreads like an expressionist painting when Siegfried makes a blood oath
with Günther, now a woman who sticks her computerized tongue out at the
audience—the production scores a triumph in the use of light-dark imagery to
mirror the archetypal forces at play, underscoring the music rather than
overwhelming it with images. The restraint bordered on excessive for the
opening scene in the shadowy hall of the Gibichungs, designated by a simple
metal wall and a box of glowing limbs, and it took a moment to realize that a
group of dancers on their knees behind Siegfried represented Grane,
Brünnhilde’s horse. Yet choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was
surprisingly effective when the bodies draped themselves in black cloth and
transformed into the Tarnhelm, the magic helmet which allows Siegfried to still
the ring from Brünnhilde. Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen, with a modernist
take on Lederhosen for the leading Gibichungs and leather motorcycle
get-up for Siegfried, add to the dystopic vision.
Ian Storey as Siegfried and Marina Poplavskaya as Gutrune with the State Opera Chorus
If the production leans too heavily on the audience’s powers of
imagination, Daniel Barenboim, currently music director in both Berlin and
Milan, fills the vacuum with the sharpest insight into dramatic nuance. The
Staatskapelle swelled and subsided with organic ease as the score soared from
subterranean tunnels to celestial plains, mutating like the ring’s magical
forces to accommodate each singer. Irène Theorin, the cycle’s Brünnhilde in
all instalments, threatened to burst the walls of the Schiller Theater when her
seasoned Wagnerian soprano broke out from its round timbre into a screech, but
she inhabited the role of the mortalized goddess with an affecting blend of
dignity, hysteria and vengeance. In the role of Siegfried, Ian Storey, a tenor
of higher vintage than the previous installment’s Lance Ryan last fall,
struggled with a wobble in the opening scenes but warmed up to give an
indomitable performance of the hero before he is stabbed in the back by Hagen.
As the evil Gibichung, Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko was an increasingly
ominous presence, spitting out his words with villainous resolve in the
soliloquy “Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht.”
It was a surprise to hear Marina Poplavskaja, a dramatic soprano who has
forged an international career in roles such as Desdemona and Violetta, portray
Gutrune—who drugs Siegfried with a magic potion in order to separate him from
Brünnhilde—but her voice poured out clearly above Barenboim’s sensitive
conducting and captured the Gibichung’s wicked wiles. She also gave a
pleasant account of the Second Norn. Marina Prudenskaya gave an affecting
performance as the Valykrie, Waltraute, who beseeches Brünnhilde to give back
the ring to the Rhinemaidens, and as the Third Norn. The mezzo Margarita
Nekrasova, in the role of the First Norn, did not blend easily but evoked
impending pathos with a more typically Wagnerian voice. Aga Mikolaj, Maria
Gortsevskaya, and Ann Lapkovskaja made for a seductive, youthful trio as the
Rhinemaidens. Even at the Twilight of the Gods, Cassiers’ vision ends the
cycle with the possibility for atonement. Despite the horrors the human race
has wracked upon the environment and itself, it can learn from the past and
Click here for cast and production information.