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?
15 Apr 2014
Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?
This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:
“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”
Is it not equally mad to let a great opera company like San Diego Opera die when it could live on with different leadership?
On Saturday night, April 5, 2014, San Diego Opera (SDO) presented what may be its last production, a revival of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte. On March 20, General Director Ian Campbell announced that the company would “shut down with dignity” on April 14. SDO is not out of money, but it can no longer afford the deluxe productions it has staged in the past. The move was a total surprise to the employees, but only one of the board members voted against the closing. At the Saturday evening performance of the Massenet opera, Campbell was booed unmercifully when he attempted to speak to the audience. Since his announcement of the closure, almost twenty-one thousand SDO fans have signed a petition to keep opera in San Diego. It can be found here. The Save the Opera Campaign can be found online here.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza fight the giant windmills.
Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) is an opera in five acts that Jules Massenet composed to a French libretto by Henri Caïn. Although Massenet's comédie-héroïque relates to the great Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, it is closer to Jacques Le Lorrain’s play Le Chevalier de la Longue Figure, which was first seen in Paris in 1904. The opera, written in 1909 for the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, was first performed early the following year at the Opéra de Monte Carlo. The composer may have also thought of himself as a Don Quixote, because at the age of sixty-seven, he was in love with his twenty-seven year old Dulcinea, Lucy Arbell.
Don Quichotte is a vehicle for a charismatic singer with a low voice. Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is one of the truly great artists of our time and an opportunity to enjoy his interpretation of the character created by Cervantes is most welcome, even if the circumstances surrounding it are painful. In 2009, the opera was first staged in San Diego for Furlanetto. Both then and in 2014, his fully engaged character portrayal, his personal magnetism, and above all his glorious singing made the audience fall in love with the madly idealistic knight. San Diego has a large Spanish-speaking population and they were particularly in evidence for this French take on an author with whose work they are most familiar.
Keturah Stickann’s traditional production followed both Caïn’s libretto and Massenet’s music with great care, but added twenty-first century lighting and stagecraft. She told her story in a most creative manner and showed applicable quotations from the original Cervantes work in translation before each scene. The Windmill Scene was particularly memorable because the music seems to be turning the huge blades as they emerged from the fog. Conductor Karen Keltner, a specialist in French music, was at her best as she gave us a musically apt description of the mind of the ingenious gentleman from La Mancha. Missy West’s exquisite costumes and Kristina Cobarrubia’s colorful Flamenco dances added visual excitement to the production. The sets by Ralph Funicello combined with Marie Barrett’s lighting to show the bare bones landscape of rural Spain.
Flamenco Dancing in Don Quichotte
Eduardo Chama’s Sancho Panza was an amusing peasant who really cared for his master. Vocally, he seems to have lost some resonance since 2009, but his able portrayal of the character made up for it. Anke Vondung was a flirtatious but innately practical Dulcinea who sang with a chocolate cream voice. Hervé Blanquart was a frightening head bandit while Chad Frisque, Michael Blinco, Anthony Ballard, and Joseph Grienenberger were mean-looking thugs. Others in the cast who added much to the production as a whole were Joel Sorenson as Rodriguez, Simeon Esper as Juan, Michaëla Oeste as Pedro, and Susannah Biller as Garcias. Choral music is often important in French opera and this work is no different. Charles F. Prestinari’s group sang with precision as they floated their delicious harmonies out into the auditorium. It’s sad to think that they and their instrumental colleagues may have much less work after the end of this season.
Cast and production information:
Rodriguez, Joel Sorenson; Juan, Simeon Esper; Pedro, Michaëla Oeste; Garcias, Susannah Biller; Dulcinea, Anke Vondung; Don Quixote, Ferruccio Furlanetto; Sancho Panza, Eduardo Chama; Ténébrun Chief Bandit, Hervé Blanquart; Conductor, Karen Keltner; Director Keturah Stickann; Choreographer, Kristine Cobarrubia; Scenic design, Ralph Funicello; Costume design, Missy West; Lighting design, Marie Barrett; Chorus Master, Charles F. Prestinari; Supertitles, Ian Campbell.