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.
25 Apr 2013
Aida with all the Trimmings, Even a Blue Silk Elephant!
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces. The Khedive’s theater opened with Verdi’s already well-known Rigoletto, and he still did not have a work that was written specifically for Egypt. French Egyptologist Auguste-Edouard Mariette presented the ruler with a scenario for an Egyptian opera that may well have actually been written by a seasoned librettist, and Verdi was contacted. This time not only did the Khedive offer an enormous amount of money, it was also noted that the offer would go to Charles Gounod if Verdi did not accept.
Verdi could not let that happen, so he then agreed to compose the opera for 150, 000 lire. Since Verdi’s choice of a librettist would only receive 20,000 lire, the high price paid the composer becomes obvious. Although the composer would not be required to go to Cairo, he was asked send a representative to oversee the rehearsals and performance. One of the reasons he did not go to Egypt for the premiere was that the entire audience was made up of dignitaries, politicians, and critics. Verdi wrote the title role of Aida for Teresa Stolz, but she did not go to Cairo either. For her and for Verdi, the real opening night was the premiere of Aida at La Scala in Milan on February 8, 1872. Needless to say, both openings were tremendously successful.
On April 23, 2013, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s Aida in a production originally staged by Jo Davies, but directed in this city by Andrew Sinclair. The colorful and imaginative scenic and costume design was by Zandra Rhodes and the striking wigs by Stephen Bryant. A good Aida production is a grand spectacle. This was no exception and it was truly spectacular right down to the Triumphal Scene’s blue silk elephant! This was one production in which the visual art on the stage was of the same caliber as the excellent singing of some of the world’s finest artists. The only question I had about the scenery had to do with the final scene in the dark tomb. I did not see any structure holding the couple prisoner.
Director Andrew Sinclair added some interesting bits of staging. There was a human sacrifice with some “blood” in the Temple of Vulcan, and Amonasro was stabbed before he could escape to Ethiopia. The Aida, Latonia Moore, had a large enveloping lyric voice with which she floated piannissimi seemingly at will. Her sound soared over entire ensembles and she dominated the stage with her presence. Not only is her singing a joy to hear, she can act as well and she made us feel for her plight as a prisoner of war.
As Radames, Walter Fraccaro was a strong military leader who sang with a substantial, if not really beautiful, sound. Like Moore, mezzo-soprano Jill Groves has a large voice with interesting colors and overtones. She was a haughty Amneris who completely lost her heart to Radames. She paced her singing well and her Judgment Scene was the culmination of a fine rendition of the role. Mark S. Doss is a good singer who can create a memorable character on the stage. His Amonasro was always surrounded by an aura of danger and he sang with a dark dramatic sound. Ramfis, the High Priest was a very powerful man and Reinhard Hagen commanded the stage with definitive bass notes and a strong presence.
Kenneth Heidecke’s choreography was appropriate to each of the scenes in which there was dancing. The chorus has a huge part to play in this opera and Chorus Master Charles Prestinari had several groups representing Egyptians and their Ethiopian prisoners singing Verdi’s glorious harmonies while their characters were at odds with each other. With this production, conductor Daniele Callegari made a most successful San Diego Opera debut. His tempi were brisk but never too fast. He gave the singers room to breathe and never covered their softer tones. As a result of all of these excellent artists working together, San Diego Opera patrons enjoyed a truly memorable performance of this spectacular work.
Click here for cast and production information.