Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
04 May 2013
Sarah Connolly: French Song at Wigmore Hall
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Beginning with three songs by Albert Roussel, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly and pianist Malcolm Martineau revealed the pervasive influences on French music and chanson at this time - the impressionistic cascading textures and drifting harmonies of Debussy, and the provocative rhythms and piquant harmonic twists of the music of Spain. In ‘Le bachelier de Salamanque’ (The Salamanca student), Martineau’s dry ripples, which occasionally expanded into outburst of warmth and colour, propelled the music forward, building to a poignant glissando flourish at the close which highlighted the pathos of final lines.
Here, and in the following ‘Le jardin mouillé’ (The drenched garden), Connolly modulated her tone to suggest something tantalisingly in-between indifferent and erotic, the French exquisitely pronounced. The joyous chords which open ‘Nuit d’automne’ (Autumn night) conveyed the richness of the golden sunset described - “the golden trees it stains with red” - but contrasting with this effulgence, Connolly found a sweetness to suggest the tenderness of love: “The dusk, on the roses,/ is so pure, so calm and so sweet,/ that noto one of them has closed - / and I pick one for you”. The tranquil sensuality of the close was deeply stirring: “and is still so warm/ that you could fall asleep naked.”
Fauré’s 'Le jardin clos' (The closed garden) followed. ‘La Messagère’ (The Messenger) aptly conveyed fleetness and vigour, through the energised nimble accompaniment, reaching vocal heights with the discovery of the beloved, “and her flower eyes open,/ resplendent in golden laughter”. Connolly’s burnished lower register mingled with Martineau’s rich accompaniment in ‘Dans la Nymphée’ (In the Grotto) while ‘Dans la pènombre’ (In the half-light) presented an insouciant contrast. Martineau was a typically sensitive accompanist throughout, never overwhelming the mezzo-soprano, even in the more tumultuous ‘Il m’est cher, Amour, le bandeau’ (My Love, the blindfold is dear to me). The gentle modalism of ‘Inscription sur le sable’ (Inscription in the sand) was most affecting.
Ernest Chausson’s theatrical ‘Chanson perpétuelle’ (Song without end) closed the first half of the recital; Martineau and Connolly balanced a symphonic majesty with delicate exchanges and reserved intimacy.
Though performed with consummate artistry and technical assurance, one couldn’t help feeling that the repertoire of the first part of this French sojourn was a little lacking in both variety and expressive depth. This is perhaps because of the innate equanimity and serenity of the material; but, Honegger’s Petit cours de morale (A little course in morals) offered a welcome epigrammatic diversion. Connolly’s focused low register was put to good effect in ‘Jeanne’, while ‘Adèle’ revealed the performers’ ability to derive the utmost variety of mood within the miniature form. Martineau’s slithering pianissimo gestures lent an ironic nonchalance to ‘Cécile’; and Connolly enjoyed the jazz-enthused vibrancy of ‘Rosemonde’, the closing phrase suggesting a world of possibility: “If you wish to discover the world/ close your eyes, Rosemonde”.
Poulenc’s passion for the poetry of Federico García Lorca was heartfelt but the composer professed: “What difficulty I have in showing my passion for Lorca in music”, “these three songs are of little importance in my vocal work”. He was referring to his Trois chanson de Federico García Lorca. Despite this authorial dismissiveness, the performers brought a thoughtful coherence to the three songs: ‘L’enfant muet’ (The dumb child) was marked by fragile tentativeness, ‘Adelina à la promenade’ (Adelina out walking) by a restless energy, and ‘Chanson de l’oranger sec’ (Songs of the dried-up orange tree) by a resonant nobility and declamatory grandeur.
Martineau made much of the musico-drama of the piano introduction to André Caplet’s ‘La croix douloureuse’ (The cross of pain); Connolly’s languid tone suggested the effort required by the poet=speaker to articulate his distress. Caplet’s accompaniment exploits the deep resonances of the piano and the contrasts between sonic reverberation and sparse brittleness, and the performers made much of the hollow self-sacrifice of the martyred protagonist: “I bow my head and I accept
the cross with which you assail me”.
Eric Satie’s Trois poems d’amour are characteristically dry and detached; Connolly and Martineau did not attempt to inject overly mannered nuances, but found some expressive meaning in the small gestures - such as the animated rising octave at the end of a phrase, or the oddly fanciful piano interjection.
Joseph Turina’s 'Tres arias' brought the concert to a close. In ‘Romance’, Martineau’s incessantly dramatic accompaniment was notable for the astonishing evenness of touch as the bass drove the music forward with muscular energy. In ‘El pescador’ (The fisherman) Connolly found an exquisite serenity to convey the fisherman’s alluring call to the fishermaiden: “come down to the shore/ and listen with delight/ to my song of love”.
The performance was marked by scarcely a blemish. But, while the technical accomplishments on display were unequivocal, and there was much intriguing and infrequently encountered material to digest, there was also perhaps a sense that we had not experienced the heights of Gallic representation of this varied and troubled epoch.