Recently in Performances
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
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.
30 Sep 2013
Peter Grimes, Vladimir Jurowski
Vladimir Jurowski conducted a fascinating Peter Grimes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Fascinating, because Jurowski finds things in Britten other conductors don't get in the first place. Jurowski approaches Britten as a composer, without the usual baggage of Britishness and Brittenish.
Jurowski makes us hear Britten as a composer who knew the music of his era and had much to say about the times he lived in. Britten was not provincial though he chose to live in Aldeburgh. Peter Grimes is by no means a "heritage museum" in music even if its inspiration was an 18th century text.
Jurowski's Passacaglia and Sea Interludes reveal Britten as a composer in the wider European context: grand, majestic gestures, as Romantic in the best sense of the word, but emotionally intense with a very modern edge. Peter Grimes was Britten's first mature opera and arguably the first real British opera, so it's important to hear it in this context. Britten knew the music of his time. The orchestration is huge in comparison to Britten's later works. There are even references to American popular music, such as in the Act Three scene in the pub. Britten, who knew more about America than most Suffolk fisherfolk, was obliquely commenting on social change. For change is at the heart of Peter Grimes.
Grimes is persecuted by pious hypocrites, determined to condemn him on principle. All around Aldeburgh, there are ruined churches, destroyed by fanatics in the Reformation. Witch hunts weren't so far in the past. Whatever Grimes may or may not have done, there are those in the Borough who need an outlet for the poison in their own souls. Perhaps there are subtexts in this opera linked to Britten's sexuality, or to his relationship with the conservative music establishment (qv Gloriana) but Peter Grimes is an opera which protests blind obedience to conformity. Anniversary years like this smother genuine knowledge under a fire blanket of banal cliché. All the more reason to respect Jurowski, even though the concert was part of the South Bank's anodyne The Rest Is Noise marketing.
Stuart Skelton's Peter Grimes is a breath of fresh air. Because Grimes is inarticulate, it doesn't mean that the role should be sung with neutral colour. The clarity of Skelton's timbre suggests Grimes's intelligence. Like his apprentices, he might have been forced into his line of work without choice. Skelton sang "Now the Great Bear and Pleaides" with such elegant purity that I thought of Captain Vere, the real hero of Billy Budd. Strength, for Britten, isn't physical prowess so much as emotional integrity. Audiences might like their Britten characters safer and more comfortable, but Skelton shows where the real potential in the role might lie.
Some excellent support from Brindley Sherratt (Swallow), whose shimmy with the Nieces ((Malin Christensson and Elizabeth Cragg) was low down and dirty yet hilarious at the same time. Nice to hear levity in a bass. Alan Opie was a good Balstrode and Mark Stone a very convincing Ned Keene. If that leather jacket cost thousands, it gave him an authentic swagger. The main female roles, Ellen Orford (Pamela Armstong), Auntie (Pamela Helen Stephen), and Mrs Sedley (Jean Rigby) could have been done with more bite, but to some extent, Britten wasn't at his best creating women. Mrs Sedley, though, can benefit from being done malevolently. There's vicious camp humour in "Murder most horrid", where trombones slither like snakes. If nothing else in this anniversary year, we should learn to recognize Britten's incisive sense of humour.
Singers have to show character and interact even in semi-stagings and concert performances. If anything, good Personenregie is even more important in semi-stagings and concert performances. One of the reasons I like minimal productions is that they focus attention on the performers themselves, not on the decor. The director was Daniel Salter who directed an excellent Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley..Alex Doidge-Green's designs were excellent. The LPO were roped in, partly to shield them from the movement of the singers on a cramped stage, but also symbolically. When Skelton rolled up the rope, he released the Peter Grimes, heading towards fate.
Cast and production information:
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton, Ellen Orford: Pamela Armstrong, Captain Balstrode: Alan Opie, Auntie: Pamela Helen Stephen, Nieces: Malin Christensson, Elizabeth Cragg, Bob Boles: Michael Colvin, Swallow: Brindley Sherratt, Mrs Sedley: Jean Rigby,Ned Ke3ene: Mark Stone, Rev. Adams: Brian Galliford, Hobson: Joanathan Veira, London Voiuces, London Philharmomnic Orchestra, Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski, Director: Daniel Slater, Designer: Alex Doidge-Green, Lighting: Tim Mascall. Royal Festival Hall, London 28th September 2013.