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?
30 Jan 2014
Puccini’s La bohème at Arizona Opera
On January 25, 2014, Arizona Opera presented Candace Evans production of Puccini’s La bohème with exciting young artists Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters as a romantic Rodolfo and his charming but not-so-innocent Mimì.
Giacomo Puccini and Ruggiero Leoncavallo both wrote operas based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, but their operas are very different. Not only does each tell different parts of Murger’s wide ranging Scènes, Puccini and his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, changed much of the story. For one thing, they made Mimì more faithful to Rodolfo, and thus much more acceptable to a bourgeois audience. The distribution of voices is also quite different. In the Puccini Mimì and Musetta are sopranos; Rodolfo is a tenor and Marcello a baritone. In the Leoncavallo, Mimì is a soprano, Musetta a mezzo, Rodolfo a baritone, and Marcello a tenor.
The Puccini opera starts with the men in their garret, but Leoncavallo puts the whole group in the Café Momus where they attempt to “dine and dash” because they have no money. His Act II opens on the repossession of Musetta’s property because her ex-lover is refusing to pay her debts. By Act III, Musetta, who had again taken up with Marcello, is leaving him because she is tired of poverty. She knows that Mimì is living with a nobleman and she hopes to do that too. Mimì returns to Rodolfo in the final act, but she is very ill. She dies as the bells chime for Christmas day. Although it might be fun to see the Leoncavallo opera someday, it is easy to see why Puccini’s story, even without his exquisite music, makes it the more popular work.
On January 25, 2014, Arizona Opera presented Candace Evans's production of Puccini’s La bohème with exciting young artists Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters as a romantic Rodolfo and his charming but not-so-innocent Mimì. Evans gave us a realistic interpretation of the libretto staged on sets by Peter Dean Beck. The first and fourth acts took place in a frigid attic room that radiated its cold out into the audience. A dual level set provided adequate space for the joyous outdoor Christmas Eve scene that formed the opera’s second act. It was a perfect background for Andrea Shokery’s grand entrance as the flirtatious Musetta. She sang her coquettish waltz song with dulcet tones, all the time trying to rekindle the interest her old lover, Marcello. When her shoe began to pinch her foot, she asked her escort, Alcindoro, to help her remove it. As he pulled off the shoe she pulled up her several skirts, to his embarrassment and the amusement of the audience.
As Marcello, baritone Daniel Teadt still loved her despite her acerbic personality, and he was happy to take her into his arms. Puccini never gave the lovesick Marcello an aria but Teadt had some beautifully lyric moments in Act III. Chris Carr was a gregarious Schaunard and Thomas Hammons made the most of his two character roles, Benoit, the ineffectual landlord, and Alcindoro, the old dandy who gave up a great deal of dignity to have a beautiful young woman on his arm. Young artist program member Calvin Griffin acquitted himself well as the intellectual Colline. Together, these artists evoked great depth of emotion with their ability to color their tones and act with their voices. Although the story of this opera is sad, Henri Venanzi’s choristers made the second act a pleasant interlude in Mimì’s inevitable decline. At the end, Rodolfo was the last to realize she has died, but when he finally did it was heartbreaking. Joel Revzen led the Arizona Opera Orchestra in a lucid reading of the score that brought out to poignancy of the story. This was a fine performance of the Puccini masterwork and the exquisite playing of the orchestra was a large part of it.
Cast and production information:
Rodolfo, Zach Borichevsky; Mimì. Corinne Winters; Musetta, Andrea Shokery; Marcello, Daniel Teadt; Collie, Calvin Griffin; Schaunard, Chris Carr; Benoit/Alcindoro, Thomas Hammons; Parpignol, Dennis Tamblyn; Conductor, Joel Revzen; Director Candace Evans; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Scenic Designer, Peter Dean Beck; Costumes, A. T, Jones and Sons; Lighting, Douglas Provost.