30 Mar 2014
ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
Never thought I’d say it but......
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Never thought I’d say it but......
Hurrah for the Royal Opera’s latest and most innovative Baroque production. Inside this gorgeous gem of a theatre, the Shakespeare’s Globe’s new indoor space known as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Kasper Holten and his team have created a mini masterpiece of baroque performance with Cavalli’s L’Ormindo.
Aided and abetted by a superb team of young singers and Christian Curnyn’s top-of-the range period musicians Holten has given us — some might say at last — hope for the future. Now Londoners have a truly special place within which to enjoy baroque opera and period theatre which does not intimidate with either size or brutal modern architecture. Seating just 340, and open since the beginning of the year, the Playhouse, snuggled alongside its famous larger sister the Globe, has been described as “an archetype, rather than a replica, of a specific Jacobean indoor theatre”. Inside, lit only with beeswax candles, the audience is immediately immersed in the drama seated as many are within yards of the performers, others just a little higher in the galleries surrounding the proscenium-less stage. With Cavalli’s little known L’Ormindo (last seen in London in 1967) which opened on Friday night to a packed house, the Playhouse has announced its arrival on the baroque opera scene with a flourish of shameless extravagance, saucy wit and sublime musicianship.
Ed Lyon as Amidas and Susanna Hurrell as Erisbe
Cavalli’s work may be little known today — his La Calisto being perhaps most frequently performed — but this near-contemporary of Monteverdi was highly successful in his day and a master of his craft. He had to be: no composer working for either aristocratic patron or the new breed of fickle theatre owner at that time could get away with second best. From palace drawing room to the streets inside weeks was not uncommon. His work may have gone out of fashion for a few hundred years but perhaps its felicitous mix of eroticism, money, fame and fortune now rings a topical bell? With L’Ormindo we have the usual baroque pot of swirling royal love affairs, spurned fiancées, cross-dressed nurses, bawdy comedy, magical allegorical figures, and lower-class confidants who use the audience as sounding boards for their musings on the baser problems of life and love. What we also got however was real international-standard production values: fabulous costumes by Anja Vang Kragh (whose Dior/McCartney pedigree is easy to appreciate), a raft of some of the best young singers available today, clever stage direction which used the unique size and shape of the space to best advantage, a marvellously witty English translation by Christopher Cowell and an 8 piece band of seasoned period performance experts (the continuo group, led by Curnyn, of harpsichord, baroque harp and theorbo deserve special mention).
Rachel Kelly as Mirinda
The nine singers, some taking two roles, were without exception terrific. Rehearsals must have been sufficient as they moved gracefully and expertly around the ever-present hazard of the real candle flames at both head and foot height (this writer not being alone in holding their breath from time to time as huge dresses, swirling capes and feathers came within millimetres of conflagration). But it was the excellence and intelligence of their singing and acting which supported the whole edifice around them; seldom does one get the chance to enjoy an opera where one can honestly say there was no weak link. Each deserves detailed praise and description, but suffice to say that if forced to choose just two, the names of Sam Boden (high tenor) as Ormindo, and Rachel Kelly (mezzo soprano) as Mirinda might just be them. Boden displayed a beautiful limpid tone and line totally in keeping with his character and Kelly a warm yet lively mezzo with which she also managed crisp diction — an important facet of performance in English with no surtitles. Of the smaller roles, mention must be made of James Laing (countertenor) as the page Nerillus/Cupid for both his elegant even tone and apparent insouciance as he hung suspended in pink and gold tutu from the flies. Such gentle guying of baroque opera’s traditions was part of the humour inherent in this production.
It seems that Kasper Holten in his relatively new position of Director of Opera at Covent Garden has at last turned the tide and found imaginative ways to support the continued flourishing of “old” opera. By working with innovative partners such as the Globe and Curnyn’s Early Opera group, he has done what many before him failed to do: spark new life into old magic. Long may we enjoy the fruits of his labours.
The ROH/Shakespeare’s Globe production of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo continues on 28th, 29th March and 1 st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th and 12th April at 7.30pm. Returns only at time of writing. BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the opera on the 5th April at 7.30pm.