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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
08 Aug 2013
A Very Real Traviata
Conductor Leo Hussein, like many of the artists in the production, was making his debut. His take on the story was immediately ascertainable when he played parts of the overture with an earthy tone. This was Violetta’s world, where otherwise refined men wined, dined, and cavorted with the most expensive Parisian courtesans.
On Monday August 5 Santa Fe opera presented a revival of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata with Brenda Rae in the title role. Since there is no curtain in Santa Fe, the entering audience saw a stage full of boxes with varying heights. Conductor Leo Hussein, like many of the artists in the production, was making his debut. His take on the story was immediately ascertainable when he played parts of the overture with an earthy tone. This was Violetta’s world, where otherwise refined men wined, dined, and cavorted with the most expensive Parisian courtesans.
The women’s costumes were colorful with extensive décolletage, tiny waists, and huge slits in their full skirts. Director Laurent Pelly acknowledged using costume design to help tell the story. Rae was a totally uninhibited Violetta who was smitten with Alfredo as she sang “Ah forsè lui” but repented her momentary lapse in an emotional “Sempre libera”. She has a good-sized voice and, except for one or two notes, her coloratura was neat and clear. Rae is a fine actress who easily communicates her feelings across the orchestra pit.
Michael Fabiano as Alfredo and Roland Wood as Giorgio Germont
Michael Fabiano sang Alfredo with innumerable gradations of dynamics and Hussein kept the orchestra’s sound level at a point where the lyric beauty of his voice could best be heard. He is a tenor whose talent promised much and in this performance he gave us even more than what was expected. Roland Wood was an officious Germont who began with a rather gruff sound, but his tone improved as he sang the part’s more lyrical moments, however. Despite the constant presence of the boxes instead of space and furnishings, Stage director Laurent Pelly and his artists succeeded telling the story in a most convincing manner.
Brenda Rae is a consummate actress who used halted phrasing and variations in dynamics to depict Violetta’s weakness. When she read Germont’s letter in the last act, she sang “è tardi” (it’s late) and dropped the mirror in her attempt to sit up. Then leaning over the bed in her distress, she looked into the fallen mirror to sing “Oh, come son mutata” (how I have changed). That brought the immediacy of her heartbreak to everyone in the theater. Verdi brought his message home by showing the stark contrast between her anguish and the cheerfulness of the masked chorus of holiday celebrants. The presence of Dale Travis as Doctor Grenvil was a bit of luxury casting. His bass-baritone voice added a great deal to the opera’s finale.
Jennifer Panara as Flora and Jonathan Michie Baron Douphol
Several of this season’s apprentices had solo roles in this performance and all of them performed well. As Flora, Jennifer Panara was a lively, party-loving member of the demi-monde. The Annina, Rebecca Witty, on the other hand was a stolid but faithful servant who would not desert Violetta in her last hours. Tenor Joseph Dennis and bass Rocky Sellars were the obsequious servants of Violetta and Flora. Bass-baritone Andre Courville was a suave Marquis d’Obigny and bass Adam Lau was an effective messenger. This rendition of La Traviata gave a good start to this week’s five opera sequence.
Cast and production information:
Violetta, Brenda Rae; Alfredo Michael, Fabiano; Germont, Roland Wood; Flora, Jennifer Panara; Marquis d'Obigny, André Courville; Gastone, Keith Jameson; Baron Douphol, Jonathan Michie; Doctor Grenvil, Dale Travis; Anina, Rebecca Witty; Conductor, Leo Hussein; Director and Costume Designer, Laurent Pelly; Scenic Design, Chantal Thomas; Lighting design, Duane Schuler; Chorus Master, Susanne Sheston.