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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.
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.’
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.