Recently in Performances
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.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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