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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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