Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.