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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.
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?
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.