Recently in Performances
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
10 Mar 2014
Schoenberg and company
With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.
Whether that be a matter of travelling to Leipzig to
see the brilliant triple-bill of Schoenberg’s one-act operas, ‘Moderne
Menschen’, or missing out on Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven a couple
of miles away at the Barbican, Schoenberg tends to exert a special call.
Whether I should have been better off ignoring the call on this occasion
remains unclear. Certainly if the standard of the first half of the concert had
been repeated in the second, I should have been far better off staying at home.
But then a good Pierrot lunaire more or less managed to save the day.
Jane Manning remains a force of nature, having given her first broadcast
performance with Pierrot almost fifty years ago, in 1965. No one is
ever likely to agree — even with his or her own thoughts, let alone anyone
else’s — about how this work ‘should’ be performed. It is far better to
allow that different performers bring different qualities to it on different
occasions. If truth be told, Manning was probably wise to downplay the sung
element in her recitation. The moments, relatively few, when she moved towards
song suggested, not surprisingly, a voice that had known better days. And yet,
her vast experience — not just of this, but of more than 350 (!) world
premieres, a good number of which would have taken inspiration from Schoenberg
in one way or another — shone through nevertheless. The words and their
possibilities she clearly knew backwards. (Now there is an idea for another
Pierrot-ensemble piece.) She knew, in a way composers such as Luigi
Nono or Helmut Lachenmann would surely have appreciated, how to make the most
of vowels, consonants, the journeys between them. Above all, she appreciated
and communicated the strong element of cabaret. Manning’s was in every sense
a performance, and all the better for it.
Not, of course, that the reciter is all there is to Pierrot, far
from it. Giora Bernstein led a highly musical account from an excellent bunch
of players. Perhaps balance was tilted a little too much away from the
ensemble, but we have a host of other performances in which we can savour still
more strongly what Stravinsky quite rightly considered an instrumental
masterpiece. There were virtues aplenty, nevertheless. The passacaglia
registered as such as strongly as I can recall, Night eventually obscuring in
more than one sense. Dance rhythms made their Viennese impressions without
exaggeration, the ‘Heimfahrt’ an especially fine example. Benjamin
Baker’s violin and viola playing was perhaps particularly impressive,
perfectly attuned to shifting mood and context, but the ensemble as a whole,
including Julian Jacobson’s piano, such a relief after the first half, had no
As for that first half, well
Doubtless Alberto Portugheis’s heart was
in the right place. The concert seems to have been his project; he was listed
as ‘curator’. But sadly, it marked a triumph of ambition over even
rudimentary technical ability; this was piano-playing that would have disgraced
many an amateur performance, and may well have been the worst I have heard in a
professional context. The opening Zemlinsky’s 1891 Three Pieces for
cello and piano would most likely have done the composer no favours in a
stronger account. Apparently rediscovered recently by Raphael Wallfisch — I
am placing my trust in a programme note which, in many respects, proved
otherwise highly fallible — they are at best apprentice works, straining
towards, yet never coming remotely close to Brahms. Here, Portugheis and, much
to my surprise, Rohan de Saram sounded as if they were sight-reading. There was
little or no sense of musical collaboration; indeed, the players fell
noticeably out of sync on more than one occasion. De Saram fared better in
Dallapiccola’s Ciaccona, Intermezzo, and Adagio, though even when
playing solo, it took him a while to get into his stride, the chaconne
initially hesitant. At least, though, the performance offered some sense of the
stature of the piece, its dodecaphonic lyricism and structural integrity a
wonderful introduction to this appallingly neglected composer.
Nono’s ¿Donde estás, hermano? was provoked — the
composer spoke of his need for such a ‘provocation’ to compose, to bear
witness — by the ‘disappearances’ in Argentina. The music comes from
Quando stanno morendo, Diario Polacco, no.2, but here without
electronics. (Not that one would have known from the programme, which
bathetically informed us that Nono had ‘strongly-held political views’.)
The vocal quartet — Marie Jaermann, Seljan Nasibili, Katie Coventry, and Anna
Migalios — seemed excellent. Alas, their performance was compromised by
Portugheis’s insistence on conducting; they would surely have better off
without. Plodding and without technique, Portugheis’s contribution was summed
up by his score falling off the music stand towards the end. As for his solo
rendition of Gerhard’s Don Quixote dances, the first opened quite
strongly. At last, I thought, we might hear something from him equating to a
real performance. I should not have tempted fate. Much of the rest sounded
closer to a bumbling amateur’s initial read-through. From time to time, some
sense of rhythm or pulse emerged, only roundly to be defeated.
Sadly, then, I was reminded of Boulez’s observation about the
self-defeating nature of the occasional performances of music by the Second
Viennese School in his youth. The technical standard had been so poor that they
did more harm than good, an incitement to him to mount his own performances,
leading to the foundation of the Domaine musical. If only, if only
Cast and production information:
Jane Manning (reciter); Marie Jaermann, Seljan Nasibili (sopranos);
Katie Coventry (mezzo-soprano); Anna Migalios (contralto); Benjamin Baker
(violin/viola); Rohan de Saram (cello); Susan Milan (flute/piccolo); David
Campbell (clarinets); Julian Jacobson, Alberto Portugheis (piano); Giora
Bernstein (conductor). Hall One, Kings Place, London, Tuesday 4 March 2014.