Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
10 Sep 2013
Wigmore Hall Opening Gala, Terfel and Keenlyside
The Wigmore Hall 2013/14 season started in exuberant style. Simon Keenlyside, Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau devised a programme that was festive and fun. And, this being the Wigmore Hall, the recital was as erudite as it was popular
The two singers were enjoying themselves, teasing and challenging each other. Seldom do concerts, especially Gala Recitals, feel as natural as private performance.
The programme was extremely well chosen, for it showcased narrative song, a sub-genre of Lieder. It was ideally suited to the occasion, and to Terfel and Keenlyside, whose opera backgrounds mean they can sing stories with vivid élan.
Keenlyside wasn't well, and needed copious liquid succour - he finished a jug of water - but being a true trouper, he turned his difficulty to advantage in his performance. "Durst,Wassersheu, ungleich Geblüt!", he growled in Hugo Wolf's Zur Warnung. So we laughed with him, not at him, as he depicted the poet's Muse's "schmöden Bafel", the lines lurching as though through a drunken haze. That's the sign of a real professional, whose artistry overcomes all.
Terfel sang Robert Schumann Belsazar op 57 (1840). More drunkenness! This time the mighty King of Babylon blasphemes and is brought down by Jehovah. Heine's version of Belshazzar's Feast is pithy, and the drama unfolds in the space of a few minutes. It's dramatic stuff. Terfel, being a natural stage animal, intones the text with slow deliberation, each syllable kept distinct. "Buchstaben von feuer, und Schreib, und schwand". You can almost see the mysterious hand writing slowly on the palace wall. He sings the lines about the soothsayers with casual tenderness, so when he sings of Belsazar's murder, the syllables sound even more ominous.
Terfel and Keenlyside foxed the audience, too, changing the programme and keeping us alert. Schumann's Die beiden Grenadier (op 49/1 1840) popped up unexpectedly, but it's a great song that fitted perfectly into this programme of Lieder as mini-drama. The ironic quote from the Marseillaise worked especially well after the Muse's wonky nightingale song in Zur Warnung. Die beiden Grenadier is witty but the humour is grim. Heine is satirizing fanatics who follow leaders unto death.
Also in place of the scheduled programme, Jacques Ibert's Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte (1932) substituted for Poulenc's Chansons villageoises (1942). An inspired choice, which showed the singer's grasp of repertoire. Ibert's four Don Quixote songs are even more colourful than Ravel's three songs Don Quichotte à Dulcinée which were sung by Feodor Chaliapin in the 1932 G W Pabst film Don Quixote. Ibert wrote the rest of the music for the film, so his songs area deliciously ironic. Terfel must have relished doing a riposte to Chaliapin. Ibert's songs veer (or should I say "tilt" wildly from mock heroic to mock sentimental to mock elegaic. Ideal opportunities for Terfel to camp up the humour and characterizations.
Both Terfel and Keenlyside live in Wales, though Terfel is of course a native. So Terfel sang Y Cymru (The Welshman) in what we must assume is perfect Welsh. The song, by Meirion Williams, sounds lovely in Welsh but it's just as well -- translated into English, the text is maudlin. But it's a good song and should be a star turn. Keenlyside decided that discretion was the better part of valour and declined to sing the third Williams song in Welsh.
Instead, Keenlyside sang Peter Warlock, an Englishman who lived in Wales and was rather fond of beer and song. Keenlyside's voice filled out beautifully in Cradle Song (1927). Warlock's My Own Country (1927), to a poem by Hilaire Belloc, is exquisite, one of his best and most mellifluous. Belloc was writing about an imaginary country, based vaguely on Sussex, but Keenlyside made it feel as if we all belonged there.
Since this concert celebrated the beginning of a new season at the Wigmore Hall, the holidy mood continued with a selection of show tunes. Here, Keenlyside was in his element. When he sang the Soliloquy ("My boy Bill") from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, he could sit on a bar stool clutching a glass (of water) and be in perfect character. Keenlyside does lounge lizard well, so I liked his Ain't misbehaving though he sounds nothing like Fats Waller. He also did a wry take on Fiddler on the Roof . His skills in the opera house stand him in good stead. Keenlyside and Terfel duetted in Cole Porter's Night and Day, coyly switching the words. They'd like to spend their days and nights "being friends".
Terfel resented more party tricks. He sang songs from the repertoire of John Charles Thomas (1891-1960), an American of Welsh descent who sang opera, operetta and popular tunes. "He sang with Chaliapin", said Terfel. Another hidden connection in this remarkably erudite programme. Terfel sang the comic The Green-Eyed Dragon (Wolseley Charles, published 1926 Boosey), first recorded in 1927 by an opera singer called Reinald Werrenrath. Crossover is nothing new.
Terfel also sang two rather better songs, Trees to the poem by Joyce Kilmer set by Oscar Rasbach in 1922, and Tally-ho !, a song about fox hunting where a foxy peasant out-foxes fox hunters and lets the fox escape. The peasant acts dumb when the fox hunters ask him where the fox has gone. The song was written by Franco Leoni (1864-1949) and was recorded by Arthur Reckless, an English baritone who later taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where Terfel learned his trade.