Recently in Performances
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.
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.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
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.
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?
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.