Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
29 Sep 2013
Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season
In its annual concert presented to the city at Millennium Park, Lyric Opera of Chicago introduced its 2013-14 season on a recent weekend evening with a program of selections featuring several present, past, and future stars of the company.
In this year’s concert the Lyric Opera Chorus was featured in a
variety of pieces under the direction of its new permanent chorus master,
Michael Black. After a prefatory address delivered by the company’s General
Manager Anthony Freud the evening’s performance was conducted by Ward Stare.
As a start to the program Mr. Stare led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a
spirited performance of the overture to Béatrice et Bénédict by
Hector Berlioz. Tempos were appropriately brisk in the opening section, while
Mr. Stare showed a nice attention to legato playing in the subsequent,
slower section. Flute and horn passages were especially well controlled in
passages that led the orchestra back to its opening tempos and to an energetic
and effective conclusion.
The remainder of the first part of the concert was devoted to excerpts from
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which will be featured with two casts in
the upcoming season at Lyric Opera. Ana María Martínez and James Valenti sang
the parts of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. As the geisha Cio-Cio-San muses while
alone on the anticipated return of her beloved Pinkerton, she imagines first
the sight of his ship on the horizon. As Ms. Martínez intoned the start of her
aria “Un bel dì” (“One fine day”) expectation built noticeably on a
rising vocal line until she declared “romba il suo salute” (“will thunder
its salute”) with an impressive forte pitch. Martínez expressed
Cio-Cio-San’s determination with her middle range focused on “non mi
pesa” (“will not weary me”), until she envisioned the approach of
Pinkerton from afar, starting as “un picciol punto” (“a tiny speck”) in
an appropriately piano vision. Hints of later tragedy were expressed
with touching innocence, as the words “celia” and “morire” (“to
“to die”) were interwoven vocally. As she identified with her
character’s unflagging faith, Martínez concluded this committed performance
with a valiant top note on “l’aspetto” (“I shall await him”). Mr.
Valenti’s aria from the final act of the opera, “Addio fiorito asil”
(“Farewell, flowery refuge”), was performed with good attention to line, a
technique which emphasized the haunting memories that would continue to plague
him. Valenti’s lower register was somewhat underused yet his high notes in
the conclusion of this brief scene (“ah, son vil” [“Oh, I am
despicable!”]) were exemplary.
The Lyric Opera Chorus performed the “Humming Chorus” from Act III of
Madama Butterfly as a fitting contribution to this first part of the
concert. The final piece from Puccini’s opera featured Martínez and Valenti
in the extended love scene from the conclusion of Act I (‘Bimba, bimba, non
piangere” [“My child, do not cry”]). Laura Wilde sang the role of Suzuki,
Cio-Cio-San’s confidante, in the opening of the scene. Once the couple is
left alone by Suzuki, the lovers’ passion seems to bloom. Perhaps because of
the distance implied in the initially shy or awkward dialogue of the
characters, the soloists here sang a convincingly emotional line toward the
close of their duet. With Valenti proclaiming at the close “Ah! Vien, sei
mia!” [“Ah, come you are mine!”]), there was no doubt that love had
indeed been awakened.
In the second part of the concert the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra
performed highlights from Lohengrin, Verdi’s Otello, and
Il Trovatore. Mr. Black has clearly worked with his forces to achieve
a well-prepared ensemble. The varying ranges and effects in the Act III Prelude
and Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin were distinct yet well integrated.
Tempos were restrained in the Verdian choruses with attention to specific
orchestral details magnifying the overall impression.
The final excerpt presented was Act III, Scene 2 of Donizetti’s Lucia
di Lammermoor. Again the chorus was given the opportunity to set the tone
of ephemeral happiness, here as the guests celebrated with vocal delights the
wedding of Lucia. At the height of this joy Raimondo interrupts the
ospiti to reveal the tragedy of the bridal chamber: Lucia has stabbed
the husband she was forced to marry and lost her reason. Albina Shagimuratova
shared the stage with Evan Boyer as Lucia and Raimondo, tutor of the young
woman, with Anthony Clark Evans performing the role of Enrico, Lucia’s
brother. Mr. Boyer made a strong impression as the initial soloist. He drew on
a fully developed palette of vocal colors in order to express the conflicting
emotions in Raimondo’s mix of horror and sympathy over Lucia’s actions.
“Dalle stanze” (“From the apartments”) showed a smooth lyrical delivery
with judicious application of vibrato. Boyer’s chilling enunciation of
“insanguinato” (“blood-stained”) made of his voice a convincing witness
to the aftermath of the murderous deed. Boyer’s sense of decoration was
evident on telling lines, e.g., rising pitches on “l’ira no chiami su noi
del ciel” (“may it not call down upon us the wrath of heaven”). At
Lucia’s entrance Shagimuratova communicated immediately the sense of a woman
unhinged. Notes sung piano and diminuendo as a means to
delineate character were in evidence from the start , as she recalled hearing
the voice of her true beloved Edgardo (“nel cor discesa!” [“won my
heart!”]). Seeming happiness was declaimed on “lieto giorno” (“happy
day”), just as Shagimuratova indulged in melismatic richness on the line “A
me ti dona un dio” (“God has given you to me”). As she descended further
into a mad reverie, Shagimuratova became more ambitious in the insertion of
trills and well-chosen decoration. The conclusion was an exciting cap to the
evening with a season of vocal drama still awaiting.