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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?
22 May 2014
LA Opera Presents Powerful Streetcar Named Desire
As Blanche, Renée Fleming sang her role with a sultry air. Her smooth, creamy tones revealed her character’s ultra-refined dream world as she told of having once been married to a gay man. The moment when Blanche met Stanley was electric. From that first second, the audience knew he hated everything she valued.
From 1920-1948 New Orleans Streetcars ran on a route called the Desire Line. In Tennessee Williams’s play, Blanche says, "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields!" The ride brings her to the Kowalski home where the action in both the play and the opera take place.
In 1947, the premiere production of Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway to begin a two-year run. Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. At the close of the first performance, the audience applauded for almost thirty minutes. The next year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In 1949, Laurence Olivier directed the London production of Streetcar starring Vivien Leigh. The 1951 film adaptation of the play directed by Kazan featured Brando, Malden, and Hunter reprising their stage roles. Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche. The movie won three Academy Awards for acting: Leigh for best actress, Malden for best supporting actor and Hunter for best supporting actress. Brando was nominated for best actor but lost.
Composer André Previn and librettist Philip Littell wrote the opera A Streetcar Named Desire in 1995, but it was not staged until 1998. Then, San Francisco Opera mounted it in a production by Colin Graham starring Renée Fleming as Blanche, Rod Gilfry as Stanley, Elizabeth Futral as Stella, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch. On May 18, 2014, L A’s purple clad jacaranda trees bloomed as forcefully as magnolias bloom in the Deep South. The warm weather and colorful display put the California audience in the right mood for librettist Philip Littell and composer André Previn’s musical version of the Williams play. Brad Dalton directed L A Opera’s production, which featured effective costuming by Johann Stegmeir and atmospheric lighting by Duane Schuler.
Renée Fleming and Anthony Dean Griffey repeated their roles of Blanche and Mitch; Ryan McKinny was Stanley; Stacey Tappan, Stella; Victoria Livengood, Eunice; Joshua Guererro, Steve; and Cullen Gandy, the Young Collector. Making his debut at L A Opera, Evan Rogister conducted with a broad style that easily encompassed Previn’s allusions to various forms of music not often heard in opera. Previn gives us jazz, blues and even a touch of Richard Strauss.
Ryan McKinny as Stanley Kowalski yells “Stel-lah”.
Instead of placing the orchestra in the pit between the audience and the action, Stage Director Dalton put the Kowalski’s tenement apartment up front with the orchestra behind the singers. Although the locals are in work clothes, Blanche wears a party dress and a flower in her hair when she is not monopolizing the bath. Fleming sang her role with a sultry air. Her smooth, creamy tones revealed her character’s ultra-refined dream world as she told of having once been married to a gay man.
The moment when Blanche met Stanley was electric. From that first second, the audience knew he hated everything she valued. Ryan McKinny was an evil but believable Stanley who exuded strength and macho sexuality. Although he had no aria, he made a firm impact with his excellent diction. Stacey Tappan’s Stella was so totally attached to Stanley that his violent nature did not discourage her. She was a slave to his sexual instincts and sang her most affecting refrain about his lovemaking. The Los Angeles Opera audience had seen Tappan in smaller parts, but this was her first leading role. Expect to see her as many more important characters.
Anthony Dean Griffey reprised his role as Mitch, the “mama’s boy” who does not know how to talk to a young lady. His character’s gaucheries provided a bit of necessary levity for this dramatic piece and his resonant tenor sound rang out with burnished colors. As Eunice, Victoria Livengood was the last person to turn against Blanche. At the end, however, it was Eunice who gave the unwelcome guest to the doctor because she thought there was nothing else to do. At the final moment, Blanche stands next to the ghost of the dead husband who has haunted her all through the opera. This was a spellbinding performance of an important modern work that should appear on many more stages.
Cast and production information:
Blanche Dubois, Renée Fleming; Stanley Kowalski, Ryan McKinny; Stella Kowalski, Stacey Tappan; Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, Anthony Dean Griffey; Eunice Hubbell, Victoria Livengood; Steve Hubbell, Joshua Guerrero; A Young Collector, Cullen Gandy; A Doctor, Robert Shampain; A Nurse, Cynthia Marty.