23 Oct 2013
Angel Blue, Wigmore Hall
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
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?
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
Californian soprano Angel Blue made her much anticipated recital debut at the Wigmore Hall for Rosenblatt Recitals on Monday 21 October 2013. Accompanied by pianist Catherine Miller, Angel Blue sang a programme which opened with the Alleluia from Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, continued with songs by Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninov, then moved into the opera arias by Gershwin, Chapi, Puccini, Wagner, Cilea, and Verdi.
Judging by her repertoire and recent roles (Musetta, Lulu, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata ) I had assumed that Angel Blue would have a voice which was in the lyric/soubrette/coloratura range but not a bit. She has a bright, vibrant voice which is admirably even throughout the range including a fine upper extension and she combines easy facility and flexibility with remarkable power. This was a voice which, when she opened up, filled the Wigmore Hall. Her inclusion of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser made complete sense in the context of her vocal capacity. And I certainly agree with those who have compared her to a young Leontyne Price.
I have to confess that I found it felt a bit odd, starting the programme with the final movement of Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, that said Angel Blue sang it with a nice freedom and evenness in the passagework and some beautifully integrated acuti. It made me regret that she didn't give us the whole motet.
Next came a group of Richard Strauss songs. In Heimliche Aufforderung she sounded radiant, displaying a warm personality in the way she brought out the narrative character of the piece and rising to a vibrantly rapturous climax. Die Nacht received a nicely intent performance with beautifully floated top notes, all sung with poise. There was a naturalness to her delivery of Allerseelen which brought out the conversational nature of the song. Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten came over with great charm and delightful characterisation. The final song in the group, Befreit, she dedicated to the memory of her father. The gave the song an intense and serious performance with a nice melodic sweep.
In all the songs, Angel Blue's performance was highly characterised and she has great charm on stage, though sometimes when she allowed her voice to open up the songs veered as little towards the operatic. All were sung with a lovely surface beauty and gleaming tone, but I did find that said that her German sounded rather occluded.
Her final group of songs in the first half were all by Sergei Rachmaninov. Here the composer's rather more heart on sleeve style seemed to suit Angel Blue's generous performing style and she seemed really at home in these songs in a way that she hadn't in the Strauss. In Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Oh, do not sing, by beauty, to me) we had the haunting melancholy of the song offset by the beauty and rich vibrancy of her voice, with lovely hints of the exotic both in the melody and in Catherine Miller's accompaniment.
Rachmaninov's Vocalise showed the full beauty of Angel Blue's voice, combining a nice evenness of line with a fine upper register. Zdes’khorosho (How peaceful it is here) was a charming piece, with Angel Blue giving the song a strong narrative feel combined with some lovely high notes. Finally Vesenniye vodi (Spring Waters), again with a strong narrative sense, lovely vibrant, gleaming tones and rapture at the climaxes.
After the interval Angel Blue reappeared with a new dress, a new hairstyle and something of a new attitude; here her delivery relaxed as she clearly enjoyed the opportunities that these operatic arias gave her. Each aria was a little dramatic scena and Angel Blue's delight and charm radiated the performances.
Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was poised and perfect, the way she slid into the first note of the piece was a complete delight. This was a very affecting and captivating performance, full of personality. This sense of personality continued with Las Carceleras (The Prisoners' Song) from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedee). This was something of a tour de force, charming and sexy and brilliantly put over.
We changed pace somewhat with the next two items, both of which allowed us to hear the dramatic potential in Angel Blue's voice. In Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca she combined a strong feeling for the words with a lovely vibrant and full vocal line. The was a very involving performance, but beautifully controlled without any the bulges in the line. The climax was thrilling, with a finely controlled diminuendo and whilst you the role does not seem to feature on her cv, it does not sound too much of a stretch for her voice. She followed this with a thrilling and gleaming account of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser. It is hopefully a few years yet before she sings this role on stage, but oh boy are we in for a treat. The combination of her vibrant toned voice, vivid characterisation and sense that she was enjoying herself made for a fine account of the aria, though here again her German was not ideal.
Io son l’umile ancella from act one of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur was just perfect, with a full vibrant line and singing which certainly brought a tingle to the spine. Angel Blue managed to both thrill and to make the aria touching, fining her voice down beautifully at the end. She closed with Violetta's Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera from act one of Verdi's La Traviata. This was a very affecting performance, combining neat passagework with striking portamenti and some powerful climaxes.
Throughout the recital Angel Blue was supported by Catherine Miller's fine pianism. Their performance rightly drew a strong reaction from the capacity audience and we were treated to two encores, a gospel number King Jesus and I could have danced all night from The King and I.
Mozart: Alleluia — Exsultate Jubilate
Richard Strauss: Heimliche Aufforderung
Richard Strauss: Die Nacht
Richard Strauss: Allerseelen
Richard Strauss: Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten
Richard Strauss: Befreit
Sergei Rachmaninov: Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vocalise
Sergei Rachmaninov: Zdes’khorosho
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vesenniye vodi
George Gershwin: Summertime — Porgy and Bess
Ruperto Chapi: Las Carceleras — Las hijas del Zebedeo
Giacomo Puccini: Vissi d'arte — Tosca
Richard Wagner: Dich teure Halle —Tannhäuser
Cilea: Io son l’umile ancella — Adriana Lecouvreur
Giuseppe Verdi: É strano!... Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera — La traviata
Angel Blue (soprano); Catherine Miller (piano). Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall, London, 21 October 2013