Recently in Reviews
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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.
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.
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.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
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.’
23 Apr 2014
Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson
On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.
Pasquale was an aging movie idol from the silent picture era who had been very famous at one time. In the nineteen fifties, however, he was living in an aging mansion on Sunset Boulevard that was as devoid of color as his old black-and-white films.
Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is an opera buffa or comic opera with a libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and the composer based on the text that Angelo Anelli wrote for Stefano Pavesi’s earlier work Ser Marcantonio. In the tradition of opera buffa, the opera makes reference to the stock characters of the Commedia dell'arte. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Italian Commedia usually involved improvised performances of simple sketches. Actors and actresses were usually professionals and they generally specialized in portraying one particular character. Actually the popularity of the Commedia did much to gain the right to perform on stage professionally for women because men did not portray the female characters. As with the show pictured in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, most performances took place outdoors on temporary stages with minimal scenery.
Andrea Shokery as Norina the Hollywood starlet [Photo by Ed Flores]
The characters of the Commedia usually represented common social types such as foolish old men, handsome young lovers, beautiful, calculating young women, and devious intermediaries. In Don Pasquale the title character is a foolish old man, Ernesto a handsome lover, Malatesta a wily intermediary, and Norina a beautiful young woman who is in on Malatesta's scheme. The use of a false notary is a common operatic device also found in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.
On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of this opera in Tucson instead of Phoenix and there we enjoyed the slower tempo of Southern Arizona. Chuck Hudson’s production of Don Pasquale combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history. Pasquale was an aging movie idol from the silent picture era who had been very famous at one time. In the nineteen fifties, however, he was living in an aging mansion on Sunset Boulevard that was as devoid of color as his old black-and-white films. His ward and nephew, Ernesto, having refused to accept an arranged marriage, proclaimed his love for an attractive Hollywood starlet named Norina. Therefore, the outraged Pasquale decided to disinherit the young man and beget his own heirs. To do this he needs a wife, however, so he calls on a family friend, Malatesta, to help him find one.
Craig Colclough as Don Pasquale, David Margulis as Ernesto, and Chris Carr as Malatesta [Photo by Ed Flores]
From there the plot of this production differed very little from traditional renditions of the opera. Craig Colclough was a thoroughly amusing, fast singing Don who eventually laughed at his own foibles. He was the only singing member of the cast who was not a member of Arizona Opera’s Marion Roose Pullin Studio. For the young Studio Artists this was their time to shine and that is exactly what they did. Andrea Shokery was a hysterically funny Norina who sang accurately while kicking up her heels. The sound of David Margulis’s tenor voice was honey for the ears. The audience knew Ernesto would get the girl in the end, but they suffered with him on the many occasions when comic obstacles got in his way. Baritone Chris Carr, who can spit tonally accurate patter like a machine gun, was a contentious Malatesta who enjoyed stirring up a hornet’s nest. As the false notary, Calvin Griffin amused us with his antics.
Conductor Gary Wedow used rubato to readjust some of the rhythms of the overture, and with the small orchestra playing this performance, it tended to change some of the music’s free flowing melodies. Henri Venanzi’s chorus, many of whom were dressed as specific old time Hollywood stars, sang in exquisite harmony while they posed for cameras. Wearing Kathleen Trott’s costumes, the audience recognized the characters immediately. One of the most amusing portrayals was silent. Ian Christiansen, the Don's fascinating, formally dressed Manservant, seemed to glide rather than walk across the room as he added to the old fashioned glamor of the mansion. This was a well thought out updating and it worked to make this nineteenth century opera a great piece of twenty-first century entertainment.
Cast and production information:
Don Pasquale, Craig Colclough; Norina, Andrea Shokery; Ernesto, David Margulis, Malatesta, Chris Carr; Notary, Calvin Griffin; Manservant, Ian Christiansen; Cook, Diane Goullard; House Boy, Samuel Slater; Maid, Ruth Sager; Conductor, Gary Wedow; Stage Director, Chuck Hudson; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Costume Designer, Kathleen Trott; Lighting and Projection Designer, Douglas Provost; Set Designer, Peter Nolle.