Recently in Performances
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.
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?
30 Apr 2014
Les Mamelles de Tirésias in San Francisco
Poulenc’s racy little 1947 confection took stage within Kurt Weill’s peculiar little 1927 singspiel Mahagonny all framed within the current California drought and doomsday predictions of impending global aridity.
But it has been raining a bit in San Francisco, and global warming might even make San Francisco wetter rather than dryer. All this took a bit of the edge off this far-fetched conglomeration of an opera within an opera within a commentary. The good news is that we heard some very good singing by well-trained young artists, and there were some snappy performances as well. Not to forget a quite capable little orchestra in a real pit in a real and indeed fine theater, the Lam Research Theater.
San Francisco has long been in need of an additional opera company to explore vast expanses of the repertory left untouched by the heroic scope of War Memorial Opera House. The 750 seat Lam Research Theater offers a potential home to such an opera company, and maybe it is Opera Parallèle, a venture of conductor Nicole Paiement and stage director Brian Staufenbiel, who have mustered a couple of productions each year since 2010, some of them in this fine theater.
This sally onto the Lam Research Theater stage was a meager production — a too real, quite forlorn 22 foot, vintage cabin cruiser put up on wheels and clumsily pulled around the stage. There was no context for the boat, like a parched earth ground or like denuded hills surround, though there were some meager gaseous aurora borealis lighting effects that flickered faintly from time to time that maybe were drought related.
The little, and it is conceptually and musically inconsequential, Mahagonny did not hold together visually or musically on the open, blank stage and the singers were simply too singerly, their elegance a poor substitution for the Weill/Brecht intended grit. Mme. Paiement’s orchestra was without edge and the maestra’s tempos felt leaden indeed.
Glenn as The Boy, Gabriel Preisser as The Husband in Les Mamelles de Tirésias. Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo, Westside Studio Image
But it all picked up splendidly when the evening morphed into the Poulenc boulevard musical, Les Mamelles de Tirésias intended to titillate and distract the post WWII Parisian public. To be sure the “advanced” social ideals seemed a bit overworked in long-emancipated San Francisco. Fortunately director Staufenbiel did not take the issues too seriously having transformed the piece into I pagliacci (a commedia dell’arte troupe descends on a backward village) here Weill's singers come upon a camp of refuges from drought stricken village somewhere on the French Riviera. Except it was on a blank black stage.
The downstage sideways positioned cabin cruiser did work very well in Les Mamelles because it gave many levels for action, and many nooks and crannies for visual surprises. You could forget the off-the-wall concept (at least there was a concept, a concept sorely lacking these days in the War Memorial) and simply enjoy the quite appealing music beautifully played in the pit and sung on the stage.
Baritone Gabriel Preisser brought unusual warmth and charm to the role of the Thérèse’s husband, tenor Thomas Glenn stood out in his Les Mamelles caricatures and more than anyone else approached the tone of the Weill. Bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams brought snap and flair to Les Mamelles’ antagonist, the Constable. The entire cast attests the high level of training behind young American artists, and the accomplishment of these young singers was very pleasurable to behold.
It will be a relief to perceive them as artists of personality someday, hopefully soon, rather than as fine young singers. Perhaps Opera Parallèle can accomplish this with deeper production values.
It was finally a well realized evening, of institutional accomplishment and promise. Off-the-wall is meant as a compliment by the way, forget the unfortunate transition at the end back into the little Mahagonny.
Casts and production information:
The Husband: Gabriel Preisser; Therèse/Tirésias: Rachel Schutz; The Constable: Hadleigh Adams; The Director: Daniel Cilli; The Journalist/The Son: Thomas Glenn; The Newspaper Vendor: Renee Rapier; The Bearded Man: Aleksey Bogdanov; The Big Lady: Amber Marsh; The Lady; Suzanne Rivin. Opera Paralléle Orchestra and Chorus with the Resound Ensemble. Conductor: Nicole Paiement; Concept and stage director: Brian Staufenbiel; Production design: Frédéric Boulay; Set design: Dave Dunning; Costume design: Christine Crook; Choreographer: KT Nelson. Lam Research Theater, April 26, 2014.