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.
20 May 2013
Brahms Third in San Francisco
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
It was an extraordinary evening at the opera, a perfect mise en scène (none) for San Francisco’s tyrannical maestro. The 70 member orchestra sat huddled in a black void and sang in one magnificent voice Brahms’ most lyrical symphony, its colors shining as never before, its moods of turgid Brahmsian contentment translocated into luminescent, metaphysical Latin lyricism.
It was opera, and this was understood by the audience who felt each movement as an extended aria, and unabashedly applauded each movement in unbridled appreciation of great singing. It was symphony as opera, the fifty-year-old composer spinning this famous yarn of contentment, its thematic play subsumed into joy of performance. Bel canto indeed.
The maestro can sometimes, even often be accused of imposing excessive drama, but Brahms offers him very little of it to manipulate. Thus the musical excess — and there was plenty of it — was limited to expected extreme tempo alterations and cantabile melodic exaggerations that illuminated and transfixed more than distorted an Alpine pastoral lyricism. Though it seemed a subdued Luisotti it was still a possessed Luisotti, a powerful conductor with a unique voice.
The Opera orchestra is known to be a very able ensemble, after all it performs the most difficult orchestral scores that exist. The sludgy sound of the War Memorial Opera House prevents perception of the beauty of its sound, sounds that until now we could only imagine. Though Zellerbach Hall is a dowdy acoustical space — the sound at first had a cavernous quality but once accepted it permitted the winds of the orchestra to sing with a beauty of tone reminiscent of the Vienna Philharmonic (yes, really it’s true). What the strings may lack in clarity of tone they make up in boldness, and this alone defines and qualifies this ensemble as a truly dramatic orchestra.
It was an evening of orchestral drama. Not least of which was the Nino Rota 1962 Piano Concerto in C major. Not much of Italian Fascist musical culture is around these days, but its heroic post-Romanticism certainly informed composer Rota’s musical formation and aspiration. Add this to the heady filmic creativity at mid-century Cinecitta and you have the sense of this musical relic. It challenged elegant French pianist Aldo Ciccolini at its premiere in 1987 but was a-piece-of-cake just now for 34 year-old Italian pianist Giuseppe Albanese (no relationship to Licia).
Dressed in formal wear with scarlet spats young Albanese visually startled, and then attacked the American Steinway with the confidence of a finished post-Boulez virtuoso and a highly intelligent contemporary musician. Like Luisotti pianist Albanese was possessed by the music, the mechanics of the score and its execution played out physically and intellectually in full view, or let us say a vista. It was pure theater of musical performance. Mr. Albanese is also Professor of Philosophy at the University of Messina where he teaches the “methodology of musical communication.”
The Rota concerto was Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky but more so it was the myriad moods that composer Rota mined for films ranging from 8 1/2 to Godfather. These moods were often conversations between the piano and an instrument of the orchestra, raptly and rapturously executed in an atmosphere of absolute artistic collaboration imposed by the maestro.
The audience roared (yes, it was a vocal opera audience), and brought Albanese back for curtain calls. But two were enough for these lovers of voices. Never mind. This determined artist came back unsummoned to perform four encores — to our great pleasure! The highlights were Scriabin’s Left Hand Nocturne played with his downstage arm (the right one) hanging limply, and a version (showers of notes) of Gershwin’s song The Man I Love created by American piano virtuoso Earl Wilde.
Conductor Luisotti opened the program with Puccini’s 1883 Capriccio Sinfonico. From this early work Puccini literally recycled the flashier moments to La boheme (1896) and even Suor Angelica (1918). It served as a perfect, amusing overture to the evening.