Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
03 Mar 2014
Torn Between Rival Loyalties
Handel’s great opus, Rodelinda, at English National Opera on
Friday night was the latest in the Coliseum’s recent run of new and
co-produced productions, and also renowned director Peter Jones’ latest foray
into the world of opera.
A full-ish house for the first night seemed from the
start inclined to be indulgent and supportive (does a Friday night after a long
week in the office in London help a new production? Discuss......) and was
helped along by what sounded suspiciously like a small claque cheering
from the very first da capo aria (“let’s get this lot going chaps”?)
without, it has to be said, that much cause at that particular moment.
John Mark Ainsley as Grimoaldo
Never mind, the audience did not need much further encouragement to applaud
as we were that night treated to one of the finest expositions of handelian
singing across the vocal spectrum that we’ve heard for quite a while. A
superb collection of the best British singing talent gathered under one roof to
show the world how Handel should — ought — to be sung. John Mark Ainsley,
(Grimoaldo), Susan Bickley (Eduige), Iestyn Davies (Bertarido), and Rebecca
Evans (Rodelinda) took on the leading roles in this tale of loyalty, power,
love and lust and gave full measure at every turn. They were supported no less
ably by Richard Burkhard (Garibaldo), Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Matt
Casio (a non singing, but certainly acting Flavio). One could spend paragraphs
praising each performer’s intelligent and musical interpretations, but
suffice to say that there was not one weak link in this chain of excellence
although inevitably both Evans and Davies, as chief protagonists and with the
most sublime and ferocious arias to their credit, did receive the loudest and
longest ovations come the end of three plus hours of Mr Handel at his best. And
each singer of course supported by the dash, drive and commitment to baroque
style that Christian Curnyn supplied from the pit.
I mentioned loyalty as a major driver in the plot: it came through again and
again both within the personal relationships of the characters and in their
wider political and philosophical concerns but it was loyalty much closer to
home which worried this writer most. One wishes only success and financial
security for English National Opera as it goes forward from some pretty torrid
times; one wishes that Handel’s greatest works should become loved by ever
larger audiences in ever more numerous productions; one wishes that more opera
house orchestras could adapt as stylishly to baroque details as does ENO’s;
and one wishes our British theatrical production talents ever more plaudits
both here and overseas as they bring new ideas and angles to old favourites.
However, the elephant in the room on Friday night, it must be said, was this
very thing. Peter Jones has already garnered many plaudits for his theatrical
insight and challenging productions around the world, but on leaving the
theatre on Friday night it became clear that this production was splitting
people down the middle.
A scene from Rodelinda
A straw poll aftewards produced extremes of reaction:
“marvellous, clever, thought-provoking” at one end and “poor singers, how
did they produce such excellence within such dire, distracting drivel?” at
the other. To be fair, he and his team did (mostly) give the singers both space
and focus on the stage for their big numbers; it was all the stuff in between
that in this writer’s opinion was either indulgent, patronising or plain
wrong. Once again, poor Mr Handel has suffered from a director’s inability to
trust the music, an inability to understand that emotion, conflict and
psychological evolution is already there — on the score, within the bars and
notes, riding on the swell and trough of fine singing. Others will disagree, no
doubt; some will say it’s a modern masterpiece; only the audiences of the
future will decide and let’s hope they do in droves. What is without doubt is
that Rodelinda will survive it all and with singers as good as we
heard in the Coliseum we can rest assured that Mr Handel will always have the
Until 15 March. Tickets: 020 7845 9300; www.eno.org