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?
19 Mar 2014
San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera
On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.
In 1857, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to write an opera. He first intended the work to be his King Lear, but that could not be ready in time for the 1858 Carnival Season. Later, he and his librettist Antonio Somma decided to base an Italian opera on Eugène Scribe’s French libretto for Daniel Auber's Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. Scribe wrote about the 1792 assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden who was shot while attending a masked ball. Censors in Italy, however, had serious objections. Verdi and Somma made changes, only to be refused a second time. In his libretto, Scribe had kept the historical figures of Gustav and the fortune-teller, but added the character of Amelia and her romance with the king.
On January 14, 1858, several Italians attempted to assassinate Emperor Napoleon III in Paris. After that, censors absolutely forbade the opera to show the murder of a monarch. They told Verdi and Somma to make further changes. Verdi was so angry that he broke his contract. The management of San Carlo sued him and he countersued. After some months, when the legal issues were resolved, Verdi was free to present the libretto and musical outline of the work to the Rome Opera. Since censors demanded further changes, they moved the site of the action to Boston during the British colonial period.
Tenor Piotr Beczala (Gustav III) and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Madame Arvidson).
On February 17, 1859, The Teatro Apollo in Rome premiered Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). Not until the twentieth century was the site of the action moved back to Sweden. Now the baritone is called Count Anckarström after the actual killer who was beheaded for his crime.
On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. She used wonderfully ornate older scenery that formed an excellent background for John Conklin’s soft colored costumes and Gary Marder’s well-planned lighting designs. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden. It’s a long role and there were a few rough-edged tones in his first aria, but after that he gave a radiant performance. His duet with Krassimira Stoyanova, the Amelia, and his final aria were superbly sung. Stoyanova's lustrous voice blended well with Beczala's and she gave an insightful portrayal of his troubled but innocent love interest.
Greek baritone Aris Argiris is new to San Diego. With his performance of Count Anckarström, he established himself as a fine singing actor with a stentorian voice and a commanding presence. His scene with Amelia made sparks fly across the orchestra pit. Stephanie Blythe has an incredible voice with a distinctive sound and a huge range of tone colors, all of which she used as Madame Arvidson, the mysterious fortune-teller.
Act 3 finale
The trouser role of Oscar requires a coloratura soprano to provide a bit of comic relief in the midst of this dark, tragic story. Kathleen Kim’s bright sound and jaunty stance provided just the right touch for the part. Joseph Hu was thoroughly amusing as an infirm High Judge. Dark voiced Kevin Langan and Ashraf Sewailam were impressively menacing as Counts Ribbing and Horn.
Chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari’s singers represented townspeople of various professions and they sang together in solid harmonies. Conductor Massimo Zanetti made a most auspicious debut and proved that the orchestra can be part of the drama. He brought the orchestra up to fortissimo on some occasions when there was no singing and kept it down to a reasonable level when soloists had to be heard above it.
Cast and Production Information:
Count Ribbing, Kevin Langan; Count Horn, Ashraf Sewailam; High Judge and Amelia’s Servant, Joseph Hu; Gustav III, Piotr Beczala; Count Anckarström, Aris Argiris; Amelia Anckarström, Krassimira Stoyanova; Madame Arvidson, Stephanie Blythe; Oscar, Kathleen Kim; Conductor, Massimo Zanetti; Director, Lesley Koenig; Costume Designer, John Conklin; Chorus Master, Charles F. Prestinari; Lighting Design, Gary Marder; Choreographer, Kenneth Von Heidecke