Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
19 Nov 2013
Arizona Opera Presents a Fine Flying Dutchman
Richard Wagner wrote: "The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of the Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange coloring that only my sea adventures could have given it.”
On November 15, 2013, Arizona Opera celebrated Richard Wagner’s two hundredth birthday with a new production of his first success, The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Holländer). Wagner was inspired to write this opera after he fled from Riga where his creditors were hot on his trail. While conducting at the court theater there, he and his first wife, Minna, had run up huge debts. When he lost the job, there was no way he could pay. The court confiscated their passports but they escaped the debt collectors by illegally crossing the border into Prussia. There they boarded a ship for an eight-day passage to London. They encountered terrible storms and high winds which forced their sailing ship to endure a three-week rollercoaster ride as its captain sought shelter along the coast of Norway. The stormy seas made the composer think of Nordic legends, one of which was the story of the Dutchman who could only return to land once in seven years.
Later he wrote: "The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of The Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange coloring that only my sea adventures could have given it.” Several of Wagner’s protagonists were men who lived outside of society. Not only does the Dutchman materialize out of the ether, so does Lohengrin. The Dutchman is a wanderer and so are Siegmund, Tannhäuser, and Wotan. The Flying Dutchman was a seminal opera for him.
This opera requires a large orchestra that would not fit in the Phoenix Symphony Hall pit. Since Arizona Opera wanted to use the full complement of musicians, the players were at the back of the stage and the action was mounted on flooring built over the orchestra pit. It brought the singers much closer to the audience and all the overtones and colors in their voices were easily heard. Director Bernard Uzan gave us a realistic interpretation of the story while Peter Dean Beck’s platforms and props made it come to life with the help of this most capable cast. Most of the scenery consisted of Douglas Provost’s visually piquant projections, which included nautical images by Gustave Doré, one of Wagner’s favorite artists. The projection seen upon entry contained portraits of Wagner and Doré.
With the stage in this arrangement, there could be no curtain, so after the overture, Daland, Raymond Aceto, strode onstage from the wings to ask the Steersman to take the next watch. Aceto has a magnificent bass sound and it was all the more evident with him in front of the orchestra. For the Steersman, Christian Reinert, it was not a good thing. He had trouble reaching his high notes and there was no orchestral cover to hide any of it.
Baritone Mark Delavan was a passionate Dutchman whose cavernous voice surged out over the audience with tonal opulence. A powerful Senta, Lori Phillips’ bright sound energized the text and made her rendition exciting. She is just beginning to emerge as a true dramatic soprano but she is already singing with a distinctively colored sound. It has been many years since a soprano brought as much exhilaration to this role as Phillips did on Saturday night.
Corey Bix was a credible Eric who would have made Senta a good husband had she not been infatuated with the Dutchman and his legend. Young artist program member, Beth Lytwynec showed her ability as a character actress with her portrayal of Senta's work supervisor, Mary, as an old woman. Her singing showed her sonorous, youthful voice, however. Henri Venanzi’s chorus was relegated to a slightly raised area behind the orchestra so they could not move about freely. Although they did perform some dance movements, they made their part clear with robust singing. Conductor Joseph Resigno's lyrical interpretation of this early Wagner score brought out its relationship to the nineteenth century operas that preceded it. His players responded with an exciting rendition that helped make this one of the best performances heard recently at Arizona Opera.
Cast and production information:
The Dutchman, Mark Delavan; Daland, Ramond Aceto; Senta, Lori Phillips; Erik, Corey BIx; Steersman, Christian Reinert; Mary, Beth Lytwynec; Director, Bernard Uzan; Conductor, Joseph Resigno; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Lighting and Projection Design, Douglas Provost; Scenery and Props, Peter Dean Beck.