Recently in Performances
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
18 Jun 2013
The Importance of Being Earnest, Covent Garden
The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
This production marks the first London staging, though the honour of the first
staging went to Nancy’s Opéra national de Lorraine. It may be considered a
resounding success, perhaps all the more surprising given the paucity of
worthwhile comic operas. (The inability of stage directors to distinguish
between the comic and comedy as a form is one of the greatest banes of an
opera-goer’s life, but let us leave that on one side for the moment.)
Barry may have studied with Stockhausen but it is his study with Mauricio
Kagel that comes to mind here, in the work’s anarchic — though, in its
compositional control decidedly not anarchistic — irreverence. An almost
Dadaistic sensibility perhaps also brings to mind the Ligeti of Aventures
and Nouvelles aventures; smashing of plates, forty of them, must
surely offer a reference, perhaps even an hommage. Humour arises not
just from Wilde’s play and what Barry does with or to it, but also from the
interaction of ‘action’ and music, seemingly autonomous, until one has
decided that it is definitely is, at which point it tempts one to think that it
might have something in common with the text after all. Parody, for instance of
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, whether its opening or the ‘Ode to Joy’, and
of Auld Lang Syne, almost inevitably recalls Peter Maxwell Davies, but
I am not sure that the method is actually so very similar. For one thing, it
seems more to be the tunes themselves that in some strange sense are forming
the drama; words at times follow Auld Lang Syne rather than vice
versa, resulting in a cyclical process one might — or might not —
consider to be a parody of serialism. (I did, but I have no idea whether that
were intended.) Stravinskian motor-rhythms power the music along, until it
stops — or are they still doing so? And just occasionally, the poster-paint
aggression — or is it an affectionate parody thereof? — seems to melt into
something more tender. But is that merely wish-fulfilment on the spectator’s
part? Is the joke on the audience?
Ramin Gray’s production seems to operate in a similar or at least parallel
fashion. There are interactions, for instance when the loudspeaker music plays
from Algernon’s iPhone. And the action is cut, stopped, made to continue
according to some ticking imperative. Moments impress, stick in the memory, for
instance the case of co-ordinated tea-drinking. One begins to ask what they
‘mean’, but already knows or at least fears that one is asking the wrong
question. Surrealism, or something like it, becomes genuinely funny. Or is it
that the funny becomes genuinely surreal? Modern dress works well, banishing
any thought that period ‘absurdity’ might heighten the farce, if that be
what it is. For disjuncture, by its very nature, continues to bring us up
short. Alienation, in work and in staging, both distances and yet brings us
tantalisingly close. For, despite or even on account of the artificiality, one
senses a deep humanity lying somewhere beneath. (Perhaps like Wilde; perhaps
The Britten Sinfonia under Tim Murray proves at least an equal partner to
the madness. Brashly rhythmic, lovingly precise, this is an estimable
performance throughout from an ensemble whose versatility seems yet to extend
itself with every year. That the players are called upon to shout and to stamp
their feet almost seems expected. Paul Curievici impresses with great
musicality as Jack Worthing, or whatever we want to call him, Benedict Nelson a
bluff foil as Algie. Hilary Summers, surely as versatile an artist as the
Britten Sinfonia, makes excellent use of her contralto range and tone as Miss
Prism, with a splendidly complementary stage gawkiness. Stephanie Marshall’s
Gwendolen and Ida Falk Winland’s Cecily shine on the mezzo and soprano
fronts, the former often warmly lyrical, the latter seemingly effortless in the
aggressively higher reaches of her range. Simon Wilding’s Lane and Merriman
offer a nice hint of rebellion, nevertheless handsomely despatched. Meanwhile,
Lady Bracknell is played by a bass, not in drag but in a suitably ghastly
barrister pinstripe; Alan Ewing rises to the occasion, and somehow seems more
real than much of the chaos around him. The cast, as the cliché has it, proves
more than the sum of its parts, as is the performance as a whole, however
awkward that fitting together or clashing of those parts may be.
Cast and production information:
John Worthing: Paul Curievici; Revd Canon Chasuble: Geoffrey Dolton;
Lady Brachnell: Alan Ewing; Gwendolen Fairfax: Stephanie Marshall; Algernon
Moncrieff: Benedict Nelson; Miss Prism: Hilary Summers; Lane/Merriman: Simon
Wilding; Cecily: Ida Falk WInland. Director: Ramin Gray; Associate Designer:
Ben Clark (after an idea by Johannes Schütz); Lighting: Franz Peter David;
Costumes: Christina Cunningham. Britten Sinfonia/Tim Murray. Linbury Studio
Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday 17 June 2013.