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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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
06 Feb 2014
Pagliacci Opens San Diego Opera's 2014 Season
On January 28, San Diego Opera presented Pagliacci as the opening production of the 2014 season. Often staged along with another opera, such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, this Pagliacci faced the opera world alone.
Director Andrew Sinclair brought out all the passion and violence of its verismo story and did not allow an intermission to dilute any of its dramatic punch.
Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) grew up in a small town in Calabria and he set his opera Pagliacci in just such a place. The composer’s father was a judge and he said he got the idea for the original story on which he based his opera from one of his father’s cases. That may or may not be true because French author Catulle Mendès thought the story of the opera closely resembled his 1874 play La Femme de Tabarin in which a clown murders his wife. Leoncavallo wanted to compose a verismo opera because he had already witnessed the popularity of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana in 1890.
Leoncavallo knew that story would make a good opera so he used it in writing his libretto. Then he set it to dramatic music. He had been trying unsuccessfully to get one of his operas staged for years. Pagliacci turned the tide. He was able to get it performed in 1892 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan where it was a triumph with audience and critics alike. Only its conductor, Arturo Toscanini, found it wanting. Mendès sued Leoncavallo for plagiarism, but dropped the suit when he was accused of copying some of his works. Toscanini’s comment was easily forgotten and Pagliacci was soon on its way to worldwide popularity.
Originally titled Il pagliaccio (The Clown), the creator of the role of Tonio, Victor Maurel, asked that the name be changed to Pagliacci (Clowns) because he thought it should include more of the cast. Tonio originally sang final line, “La commedia è finita,” until Enrico Caruso began to sing it as Canio.
Adina Nitescu as Nedda, Frank Poretta as Canio and Stephen Powell as Tonio
On January 28, San Diego Opera presented Pagliacci as the opening production of the 2014 season. Often staged along with another opera such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, this Pagliacci faced the opera world alone. Director Andrew Sinclair brought out all the passion and violence of its verismo story and did not allow an intermission to dilute any of its dramatic punch. Scenic director John Coyne set the action in a simple out-of-doors scene with a blooming tree signifying summer in the small Italian town. Baritone Stephen Powell sang the Prologue with stunning and powerful tones. As it turned out, it was the best-sung aria of the evening.
When the curtain rose, the townspeople and circus performers were clothed in Ed Kotanen's authentic early twentieth century costumes. Traveling circus company members were setting up the well-worn platform stage and numerous benches that they carried with them from town to town. After seeming to be a straightforward character when he sang the Prologue, Tonio skulked about the stage when interacting with the other performers. He was a misfit who probably could not get work elsewhere. As Canio, Frank Poretta, was a jovial character whose main purpose was to lure an audience to the troupe’s performances. He sang with a secure, fluid line. Nedda, Canio’s unhappy trophy wife, looked forward to her tryst with her younger lover, Silvio, as she sang her aria about the freedom of the birds overhead. Adina Nitescu is a dramatic soprano and her tones were stronger and darker than the ones expected from Nedda. When Tonio tried to kiss her, Nedda grabbed a whip and beat him until he limped off harboring thoughts of a grisly revenge.
Little by little Tonio infected Canio’s mind until he lapsed into insane jealousy. For Sinclair, this was Tonio’s story, and he made sure the audience saw that the ugly clown was pulling all the strings to make the murder happen. That’s why this time it was Tonio who ended the opera with “La commedia è finita.” Joel Sorensen was a worthy Beppe and David Adam Moore a handsome, vocally sensuous Silvio. Directed by chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari, the choristers sang with delicious harmonies as they portrayed rural townspeople. Yves Abel underscored Sinclair’s dramatic tone with his brisk interpretation of Leoncavallo’s music and his orchestra responded with dramatically alert playing. This was a short but emotionally stunning performance of a well loved verismo opera.
Cast and production information:
Tonio, Stephen Powell; Canio, Frank Poretta; Beppe, Joel Sorensen; Nedda, Adina Nitescu; Silvio, David Adam Moore; Conductor, Yves Abel; Director, Andrew Sinclair; Scenic Designer, John Coyne; Costume Designer, Ed Kotanen; Lighting Designer, Michael Whitfield; Chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari.