Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
25 May 2013
Baltimore Premieres Camelot Requiem
In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination.
Grief is the word that came to mind during the world premiere of composer Joshua Bornfield and librettist Caitlin Vincent’s original opera, Camelot Requiem. In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination. The librettist is the Artistic Director of The Figaro Project, a group formed to promote local artists and affordable opera. The two-act work, which incorporates a Requiem Mass, was performed with a six-piece orchestra from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University School of Music was conducted by Blair Skinner. The cast, also from Peabody, included: Caitlin Vincent as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nathan Wyatt as Robert Kennedy, Alex Rosen as Lyndon Johnson, Lisa Perry as Lady Bird Johnson, Jeremy Hirsch as Dr. Burkley, Kate Jackman as Nurse Hutton, and Stephen Campbell as the Reverend Oscar L. Huber.
The opera depicted the horror of the time with a powerful musical performance punctuated with dissonance and silence. Taylor Boykins, a first year Peabody student who was at the performance, said, “The text is raw - kind of graphic.” The opening chords sent shivers down my spine when they combined with the ringing of bells and chanting. As Jacqueline Kennedy, Vincent was costumed in a bright pink suit, matching pillbox hat and bloodstained white gloves. With her dark hair and attractive demeanor, she resembled the first lady as her lush sound soared above the musical depiction of the events that took place at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas and the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Bornfield had unleashed his composition on a potent libretto.
Through the thunderous performances of Wyatt as Robert F. Kennedy and Rosen as L. B. J., the audience got a glimpse of the transfer of presidential power in the midst of the nation’s emotional shock following the assassination. Andrew Posner, 20, an undergraduate composition student of at Peabody said that Bornfield’s style was unique and his orchestration fantastic. Vincent drafted the libretto in October 2011 from three poems she had written from Mrs. Kennedy’s perspective on the day of her husband’s death. She developed one of them, entitled Rose, into a melancholy aria. To obtain her material, she researched oral interviews, Lady Bird’s personal diary and condolence letters sent to Mrs. Kennedy. When operagoers arrived at the church and they were handed programs and reproductions of sympathy notes sent to Mrs. Kennedy from around the world.
While the action moved on and off the church altar, the deliberate cacophony, bursting harmonies, and the magnificent baritone voice of Wyatt as RFK convinced the audience that a “New Frontier” was imminent. Perry as Lady Bird offered relief from the tension by infusing the opera with a warm and casual 1970’s song. Conductor Skinner, a DMA candidate at the Peabody, said that when you have a piece of music that no one has heard before and ten individual voices, each of which does something individualistic, the process is grueling but the hard work makes the effort extremely rewarding. Jackman as Nurse Patricia Hutton expressed emotional intensity with the weight of her soothing mezzo-soprano voice. As Mrs. Kennedy, Vincent sang that she would like to wake up from this nightmare. Her sorrow came across to the audience when she sang that she would rather die with her Jack than live without him. The final Lux Aeterna, sung by the cast from the balcony to Mrs. Kennedy who was standing below, left audience feeling comforted by angels.
Maureen L. Mitchell