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Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
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.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
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.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
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.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
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.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
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.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
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?
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.