Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
27 Mar 2014
Requiem for a Lost Opera Company
On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.
After Gioachino Rossini's death in 1868, Giuseppe Verdi suggested that a group of then-famous Italian composers collaborate on a requiem in Rossini's honor to be played on the first anniversary of his death. Verdi wrote the final Libera me and was frustrated when the work was not performed. Six years later, he put his composition to use in a Mass that honored another man whom he greatly admired, Italian poet and novelist Alessandro Manzoni. The first performance of the Manzoni Requiem took place at the church of St. Mark in Milan on May 22, 1874, the first anniversary of the writer’s death. The piece lends itself much more to the concert stage than to the church, however, and it is most often played in theaters and opera houses.
On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto. They and the San Diego Master Chorale combined with the San Diego Opera chorus sang to the accompaniment of the San Diego Symphony conducted by Massimo Zanetti. The seats went on sale in the fall and by Christmas the house was completely sold out. However, on the day of the performance the mood was funereal.
Opening with muted cello sounds, the beginning of the Mass indicated the sorrowful mood of both musicians and audience. Maestro Zanetti had a tremendous range of dynamics and the following Dies Irae came in with thunderous drum beats. Blythe sang of judgment with a tapestry of tonal color and was joined by Beczala and Stoyanova in the description of the disparity between the power of God and the human condition. Beczala’s Ingemisco was a thing of great lyrical beauty that became one or the crown jewels of this performance. Furlanetto sang of the damned being consigned to the flames of Hell and Stoyanova sang the Libera Me with a radiance that transcended the darkness of the surrounding aura. Eventually, the chorus returned to the day of wrath and of tears, which this certainly was for its members. Perhaps it was their outrage at being dismissed with little regard for their devotion to the company that made the orchestra and chorus sing and play with every fibre of their bodies. Together with the internationally known soloists, they made this a Verdi Requiem never to be forgotten by anyone who was in the Civic Theater that night.
Soprano, Krassimira Stoyanova; Mezzo-soprano, Stephanie Blythe; Tenor, Piotr Beczala; Bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto; Conductor, Massimo Zanetti.