20 Mar 2013
I Lombardi, UC Opera London
Don’t miss UC Opera’s I Lombardi at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
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 Tsarskoye Selo.
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.
Don’t miss UC Opera’s I Lombardi at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
I Lombardi and Nabucco are almost companion pieces, and the Royal Opera House is doing Nabucco from 30th March, on a much grander scale, for Nabucco suits grand designs.
Visually, the UC Opera I Lombardi is so striking that it would stun audiences in bigger houses with better facilities. The drama starts with a simple, dark backdrop, a monochrome tower, a bright telephone box. The impact is immediate. Verdi set I Lombardi at the time of the First Crusade to conceal its message at a time when much of Italy, once the seat of the Roman Empire, was ruled by foreign powers.This isn't really a battle between Lombardy and Antioch. The Lombards are tearing each other apart with rivalries, rather than facing their true enemies. In Verdi's time, Italy was a disunited conglomeration of small states that could not rise above petty self-interest towards a greater goal.
Although Christian themes dominate the opera, I Lombardi is not anti-Muslim as such. Oronte, the prince of Antioch, becomes a Christian without much inner anguish. One can read a nod here to Italian nationalism, since Italians dominated the church, although the Austrians, also Catholic, dominated the state in Northern Italy.Verdi must have been aware of the impact Griselda's hymn to the Virgin Mary would have on audiences. Caught up in reverence, they might, for a moment, forget the pettiness of worldly values and unite in the contemplation of more noble ideals. In the chorus "Jerusalem !", nearly everyone on stage joins in unison, transfixed by the vision before them.
This staging, designed by Will Bowen, directed by Jamie Hayes, and produced by Rosie Hughes, places the action in a land that hovers between modernity and a fading memory of the past, just as Giselda inhabits an alien land far away from her origins. Phone booths are relics. We don't communicate like that much now. This is an allusion to the theme of nostalgia that runs through the opera and fuels visions of an idealized future. The Tower is a Victorian photo of a real pub in The City of London, which you can still visit.. Once it was a tavern where cock fighting took place. It's a subtle detail but cogent. The Lombards are acting out a cock-fight on a grand scale.
Ellan Parry's costumes also follow this theme of unspecified timelessness. We could be at any time in the last century, or in the present. The men wear sharp suits, as so many Italians aspire to, but preen themselves on machismo. Without true religion, crusaders are no more than street gangs spreading their turf. At the end, chorus and remaining soloists stand together, their faces shining as they contemplate Jerusalem, at last within sight. We don't need to see a mock up. We can hear it in the orchestra and in the voices of the singers, and see it in their shining faces. Jerusalem isn't a physical place but a state of mind.
UC Opera is part professional, part amateur so the performances were good enough. Charles Peebles conducted. Katharina Blumenthal sang Griselda with firm assurance. John Mackenzie sang Pagano/the Hermit, pushing a supermarket trolley with neon cross. This was wittier than you'd expect. Pagano means "pagan", and the Hermit is an outsider, who has taken a vow of poverty. In these drab surroundings, the jewel colours of the cross shone even more brightly. Jeff Stuart sang Arvino and Adam Smith was a heroic Oronte. Sally Harrison sang Viclinda and Carola Darwin sang Sophia. Andrew Doll sang the Prior. Edward Cottell sang Pirro and Joseph Dodd was a distinctive Acciano.