Recently in Performances
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?
11 Dec 2013
The Magic Flute at Los Angeles Opera: Silent Film Style
Los Angeles Opera's new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute opened on November 23, 2013. Brought here from the Komische Oper in Berlin where it premiered last year, the production is a multimedia rendition in the style of the British theater group 1927.
Los Angeles Opera's new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute opened on November 23, 2013. Brought here from the Komische Oper in Berlin where it premiered last year, the production is a multimedia rendition in the style of the British theater group 1927. The concept by Suzanne Andrade, Paul Barritt, and Barrie Kosky combines opera with 1927's silent movie technique to produce a 'film noir' ambience. Throughout the evening singers interacted with the hand-drawn animation projected onto the screen to evoke the style of silent film. The use of projections instead of stick-built scenery is a growing trend among opera companies since it saves a good deal of time and money that can be used elsewhere.
Although designer Esther Bialas had to deal with the lighting from the projections, she made the singers look like their characters as they acted out the story in front of screens. Silent-film pictures with minimalist texts above Buster Keaton-styled images appeared during the opera's recitatives. Pianist Tamara Sanikidze accompanied them on an eighteenth century hammerklavier with music from Mozart's fantasias K 397 in D minor and K 475 in C minor. Her artistry was magnificent and the extra music provided an unexpected treasure.
Tamino (Lawrence Brownlee, at left) and Papageno (Rodion Pogossov, at right) are sent by the Three Ladies (Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell) to rescue Pamina.
The projected video sometimes involved nearly one thousand layers that had to be manually triggered by the stage manager so that the animation matched the conductor's tempi. Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon called the concept 'an extraordinary idea and an extraordinary execution of that idea', adding that 'for LA, the birthplace of movies, it's a perfect fit'. Barrie Kosky said that the rhythm of the music and the text had an enormous influence on the animation. He and his collaborators condensed the dialogues and transformed them into silent film 'intertitles' with piano accompaniment.
After a rousing rendition of the opera's overture, the voice of Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino resonated throughout the hall as he fought a huge dragon that wanted to devour him. He sang this aria and the rest of the role with beautifully cultivated tone. The Three Ladies who really did slay the monster were Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoé Velasco, and Peabody Southwell. Chang's radiant, lustrous soprano was particularly well focused. Velasco provided sumptuous harmony, but Southwell's low notes could have been stronger. Evan Boyer, the Sarastro, is a very young bass with a pleasant voice but his low tones could have been more robust. As the Queen of the Night, Erika Miklósa negotiated her phenomenally difficult arias without missing the tiniest note. Most coloratura sopranos don't sing the Queen for very long, but she has sung it for more than four hundred performances.
Thrown out of Sarastro's temple, Monostatos (Rodell Rosel) teams up with the Queen of the Night's Three Ladies (left to right: Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell).
Dressed as Nosferatu, Rodell Rosel portrayed an evil Monostatos whose amusing aria did not win him much sympathy. The tenor voice of Vladimir Dmitruk, the First Armed Man, made listeners wonder when he will sing a larger part. Philip Addis was a stentorian speaker and Valentin Anikin a secure Second Armed Man. Amanda Woodbury was a charmingly sexy Papagena and the three boys from the LA Opera Children's Chorus added a piquant note to the mix. Grant Gershon's adult chorus sang with stirring harmony in their hand-drawn, animated state. Conductor James Conlon, who regaled the audience with a delightful pre-show lecture, had a little difficulty synchronizing stage and pit in the first moments after the overture. After that, he conducted with delightfully varied tempi and rubato that brought out the lilting qualities of Mozart's music. Premieres are always fun at Los Angeles Opera and this one was the cream of the crop.
Cast and production information:
Tamino, Lawrence Brownlee; Pamina, Janai Brugger; The Queen of the Night, Erika Miklosa; Sarastro, Evan Boyer; Papageno, Rodion Pogossov; First Lady, Hae Ji Chang; Second Lady, Cassandra Zoé Velasco; Third Lady, Peabody Southwell; Monostatos, Rodell Rosel; Papagena, Amanda Woodbury; The Speaker, Phillip Addis; First Armored Man, Vladimir Dmitruk; Second Armored Man, Valentin Anikin; First Boy, Drew Pickett; Second Boy, Charles Connon; Third Boy, Jamal Jaffer; Conductor, James Conlon; Directors, Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky; Animation, Paul Barritt; Concept 1927 (Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt) and Barrie Kosky; Scenery and Costume Designer, Esther Bialas.