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.
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.