Recently in Performances
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
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.
15 Oct 2013
Fun Loving H.M.S. Pinafore Opens Arizona Opera
The star of the show was the agile Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. A fine operatic baritone, Orth’s patter was machine gun fast, crisp, and completely understandable.
Of the fourteen works that librettist William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) wrote together, H.M.S. Pinafore is one of the most popular. Its premiere took place on May 25, 1878, at the Opera Comique in Paris before a receptive audience. Although a summer heat wave dampened ticket sales, by September the show was playing to full houses. That same year the first unauthorized version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pinafore premiered in the United States and "Pinafore-Mania" began to sweep the nation. Dolls and other items based on its characters flew off store shelves while media of the time referred to lines from the show.
Approximately one hundred fifty unauthorized productions of Pinafore could be seen in the United States in 1878 and 1879, and not one of their producers paid a cent to the work’s creators. That is why the librettist and the composer boarded a steamship for New York hoping to set matters straight. When they arrived on November 6, 1879, a reporter from the New York Herald interviewed them, and one hundred and thirty-four years later, that interview is online here.
For many years afterwards Gilbert and Sullivan sued various entities in the U.S. in an attempt to establish control over their work and claim the royalties due them. They never succeeded. Pinafore opened in New York at the Fifth Avenue Theater on December 1, 1879. Unfortunately, the authorized version of the show only ran one month because most New Yorkers had already seen local productions.
Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, Curt Olds as Captain Corcoran, and the Arizona Opera Chorus
On October 11, Arizona Opera open its 2013-1014 season in Phoenix with Tara Faircloth’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pinafore. As the main feature of his scenic design, Douglas Provost used a set from Tri Cities Opera of Binghamton, NY, which had various levels and compartments that allowed room for the performance of all the shenanigans a comic opera could call for. Colorful, detailed costumes from AT Jones and Sons of Baltimore set the time firmly in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ladies wore intricate bustles, the sailors sported natty looking uniforms, and the ship’s officers were decked out with tons of gold braid. Director Tara Faircloth devised various types of comic antics for the cast but they never interfered with the singing. Every cast member had good timing and the highest ranks took the steepest pratfalls. There were titles for the sung numbers, but some of the spoken dialogue was rather fast and a bit hard to catch.
As Ralph Rackstraw, David Portillo moved well and his crème caramel lyric tenor voice rang out with passion for Josephine, his true love. Sara Gartland looked enchanting as Josephine and sang with an expanse of surging sound. Her voice was not as sweet as Portillo’s but their tones blended when they sang together. The star of the show was the agile Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom Josephine’s father wanted her to marry. A fine operatic baritone, Orth’s patter was machine gun fast, crisp, and completely understandable.
Mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely created a fascinating character as the lady whom Sir Joseph describes as “plump and pleasing Little Buttercup”. An excellent comedienne with an hourglass figure, she sang her part with an English contralto sound. Baritone Curt Olds has a long history of appearances in musical comedy which he put to good use in Pinafore. As the Captain, he officiated over hi-jinks galore.
Andrew Gray provided a bit of serious respite as the grumbling Dick Deadeye while the talents of two members of Arizona Opera’s young artist program, Beth Lytwynec and Calvin Griffin, added a great deal to the audience’s enjoyment. Henri Venanzi’s small chorus sang with impeccable harmonies and conductor Rob Fisher’s fast, light approach to the score elicited taught, springy rhythms from the ensemble. Arizona Opera gave its Phoenix audience a thoroughly joyous rendition of this lighthearted work.
Cast and production information:
Sir Joseph Porter, Robert Orth; Captain Corcoran, Curt Olds; Ralph Rackstraw, David Portillo; Josephine, Sara Gartland; Little Buttercup, Susan Nicely; Dick Deadeye, Andrew Gray; The Boatswain, Chris Carr; Cousin Hebe, Beth Lytwynec; The Mate, Calvin Griffin; Conductor, Rob Fisher; Director, Tara Faircloth; Chorus Master Henri Venanzi; Scenic Designer, Douglas Provost; Lighting Designer, Gary Eckhart; Costumes, AT Jones.