In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
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.
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.
Connell was South African born, based on London for much of her career and with strong ties to Australia, so that the friends and pupils who came together at St John’s Smith Square on 27 April 2013 to celebrate her memory were many and varied.
Proceedings opened with Aivale Cole, one of Connell’s pupils, singing an unaccompanied traditional Samoan piece Lota Nu’a, a powerful and affecting way to open.
Kathryn Harries was the master of ceremonies, introducing items, reading extracts from Connell’s obituary and providing other memories as well as contributing her own solo. The first half of the concert consisted of extracts from operas which were associated with Connell. Sylvie Valayre opened things with "La luce langue" from Verdi’s Macbeth accompanied by Phillip Thomas. A highly dramatic and vivid performance, displaying Valayre’s strong, dark toned voice. The result was sometimes rather stormy and lacked the superb sense of line that I remember from Connell’s own performance of the role.
Veteran tenor Thomas Moser sang "Mein lieber Schwann" from Wagner’s Lohengrin. A very heroic yet beautiful performance, Moser singing with a fine sense of line, burnished tone and ringing top. Baritone David Wakeham contributed Nabucco’s "Dio di Giuda" from Verdi’s opera, singing with a lovely line combined with a vibrant voice and expressive phrasing. He was accompanied by Mark Packwood. Kathryn Harries sang the Kostelnicka’s "Co chvila" from Janacek’s Jenufa. The Kostelnicka was a role which Harries shared with Connell. Harries gave us an intense scena, dramatic and rather brilliant.
After readings for Connell’s obituary in the Guardian, Richard Wiegold sang King Mark’s "Wozu die Dienste ohne Zahl" from Tristan und Isolde accompanied by Stephen Rose. This was a very fine, complex and profoundly moving performance. Wiegold singing with a lovely dark, burnished voice. Tenor Stuart Skelton, with Phillip Thomas at the piano, performed Florestan’s "Gott, welch Dunkel hier" from Beethoven’s Fidelio. Skelton sang with lovely, bright ringing tones, combining power with intensity and subtlety.
The last item in the first half was a role which Connell had come to rather late, but which had become one of her core roles, Turandot. Her pupil, Elisabeth Meister, sang Turandot’s "In questa reggia". Though I never heard Connell as Turandot, Meister’s gleaming tone and superb sense of line recalled what I remember of the virtues of Connell’s singing. It was a vibrant performance, implacable yet not strident, with impressive evenness of control.
For the second half, the concert tried to encompass other aspects of Connell’s character and art, starting with her sense of humour. We opened with a remembrance of her from Peter Robinson, then Robinson and Linnhe Robinson (members of a dining club with Connell), playing the Faure / Messager Souvenirs de Bayreuth. A delightful way of including to a reference to the Ring cycle in the concert (Brunnhilde and Sieglinde being amongst Connell’s roles).
Further humour followed, with Yvonne Kenny giving a delightful performance of Gershwin’s By Strauss accompanied by Linnhe Robertson. A masterly performance with a lovely shaped line combined with a fine attention to the words.
Fiona James, who had sung Adalgisa to Connell’s Norma on tour in Australia, gave us some charming examples of Connell’s sense of humour. James went on to announce details of the Elizabeth Connell Prize. Under the terms of Elizabeth’s Connell’s will, this is to encourage and assist aspiring dramatic sopranos of the world. The final of the inaugural competition will take place in 2014 in Sydney when five singers will compete for a prize of 20,000 Au$. The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Foundation will administer the prize, and in fact Richard Bonynge was present at the concert in St John’s Smith Square.
More humour followed, with David Wakeham returning, accompanied by Mark Packwood, to give masterly performances of Tom Lehrer’s She’s my girl and I take your hand in mine, with nicely pointed words combined with a lovely line and a wonderfully deadpan manner.
Connell’s work as a recitalist was honoured in the next segment of the programme. Christine Teare and Mark Packwood gave a big-hearted performance of Richard Strauss’s Allerseelen. Morgan Pearse, accompanied by Eugene Asti, displayed an amazingly dark and vibrant baritone voice in a moving performance of Finzi’s Fear no more the head of the sun.
Penelope Randall-Davis, accompanied by Stephen Rose, gave a vibrant account of Handel’s "Ma quando tornerai" from Alcina. Jeffrey Black and Eugene Asti gave a rather operatic performance of Schubert’s Standchen. Tessa Uys, a friend of Connell’s from South Africa, gave a poetic account of Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, D 899.
Turkish soprano Tulay Uyar is another of Connell’s pupils. She has a lovely bright toned lyric voice and gave a vividly dramatic account of "Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen" from Mozart’s Zaide, accompanied by Richard Hetherington. Two Massenet songs came next. Tenor Julian Gavin and Linnhe Robertson in "Pensée d’automne" and Sally Silver and Eugene Asti in a lovely account of "Ivre d’amour".
Thomas Moser, accompanied by Phillip Thomas, sang "She walks in loveliness" by Ernest Charles. And the solo contributions concluded with Sally Silver accompanied by Tessa Uys singing a traditional South African lullaby "Thula Thula", a song associated with Connell’s youth.
Proceedings concluded with all the singers returning to sing the chorus "Va, pensiero" from Verdi’s Nabucco conducted by Peter Robinson with Stephen Rose at the piano. A fine conclusion to a memorable concert in memory of a fine artist.
Elizabeth Connell Memorial Concert
Samoan Traditional: Lota Nu’u
Verdi: La Luce langue (Macbeth)
Wagner: Mein liebe Schwan (Lohengrin)
Verdi: Dio di Giuda (Nabucco)
Janacek: Co Chvila (Jenufa)
Wagner: Wozu di Dienste ohne Zahl (Tristan und Isolde)
Beethoven: Gott, welch Dunke hier (Fidelio)
Puccini: In questa reggia (Turandot)
Faure/Messager: Souvenirs de Bayreuth
Gershwin: By Strauss
Tom Lehrer: She’s my girl
Tom Lehrer: I take your hand in mine
Richard Strauss: Allerseelen
Finzi: Fear no more the heat of the sun
Handel: Ma quando tornerai (Alcina)
Schubert: Impromtu in G flat, D 899
Mozart: Tiger! Wetze nur di Klauen (Zaide)
Massenet: Pensee d’automne
Massenet: Ivre d’amour
Ernest Charles: She walks in loveliness
Trad: Thula Thula
Verdi: Va, pensiero, (Nabucco)
Aivale Cole (soprano)
Sylvie Valayre (soprano)
Thomas Moser (tenor)
David Wakeham (baritone)
Kathyrn Harries (soprano)
Richard Wiegold (bass)
Stuart Skelton (tenor)
Elisabeth Meister (soprano)
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Christine Teare (soprano)
Morgan Pearse (baritone)
Penelope Randall-Davies (soprano)
Jeffrey Black (baritone)
Tulay Uyar (soprano)
Julian Gavin (tenor)
Sally Silver (soprano)
Peter Robinson (conductor/piano)
Phillip Thomas (piano)
Mark Packwood (piano)
David Gowland (piano)
Richard Hetherington (piano)
Stephen Rose (piano)
Linnhe Robertson (piano)
Eugene Asti (piano)
Tessa Uys (piano)
St. John’s Smith Square, London
27 April 2013