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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: The Monk vs. The Courtesan
As Athanaël, Placido Domingo created a realistic monk who was ostensibly tempted to disregard his vows. The audience knew that had the courtesan Thaïs lived longer, he would have thrown his immortal soul into the wind.
Composer Jules Massenet and librettist Louis Gallet constructed the opera Thaïs from the 1890 novel of the same name by Anatole France. France based his book on the life of St. Thaïs of Egypt, a fourth century convert to Christianity. Massenet’s comédie lyrique was first presented at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on March 16, 1894, starring the California-born soprano for whom he wrote the title role, Sibyl Sanderson. Sanderson, known for her physical beauty as well as for her vocal interpretations, appeared at a rehearsal wearing a scanty costume made of net. Members of the orchestra were enchanted, but the company insisted she revert to wearing more a conservative outfit that would not attract the police.
Nine years later, on October 17, 1903, Lina Cavalieri sang the Italian premiere of Thaïs at the Teatro Lirico Internazionale in Milan. In 1907, Mary Garden made her American debut at the first United States performance of the opera. Later interpreters of the role of Thaïs include: Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, and Elizabeth Futral.
Thaïs is Massenet’s third most often performed work. It follows his Manon and Werther and has never been a constant in the operatic repertoire. One of the reasons for this may be that the hero is a baritone instead of a tenor. Also, the most famous piece from this opera is not an aria. It is the Méditation, a short work for violin and orchestra. On the other hand, the role of Thaïs has been a showpiece for sopranos like Cavalieri, Garden, and Moffo whose looks were as attractive as their singing.
On May 17, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented a production of Thaïs by Nicola Raab that was originally seen in Scandinavia. The costumes and settings by Johan Engels were colorful and evocative of luxury for the first two acts, but they did not set a definite time nor did they define the Cenobite monks with the expected garb. Only Placido Domingo as Athanaël wore an outfit that resembled a monk’s habit. Act I showed the luxury of Alexandria in bold shades of red and gold. The small box set for Act II was exquisite, while Act III showed the desolation of a bleached-out desert. All of these scenes were bathed in Linus Fellbom’s mood-influenced lighting.
Nino Machaidze as Thais with Paul Groves as Nicias
Soprano Nino Machaidze was a lovely Thaïs who sang with a bit of vibrato in the first act. After that she came into her own, however, and created a memorable characterization of the fourth century saint who turned from a life of sinful pleasure to the asceticism of the convent. In the first and second acts, the role of Athanaël lies quite low so we did not hear any of Domingo’s golden toned top notes until late in the show. However, his acting was at its best when he angrily destroyed the courtesan’s favorite erotic statue. Most importantly, he created a realistic monk who was ostensibly tempted to disregard his vows. The audience knew that had Thaïs lived longer, he would have thrown his immortal soul into the wind.
Paul Groves was a hedonistic Nicias who looked every inch the noble and sang with bronzed resonance. As the Abbess, Milena Kitic sang with dulcet tones as she welcomed Thaïs into the company of sisters. Domingo-Colburn-SteinYoung Artist Program Member Valentin Anikin sang Palemon with deep toned lyricism while fellow members Hae Ji Chang as Crobyle and Cassandra Zoé Velasco as Myrtale enchanted the audience with their visual and vocal talents. As with many French operas, the chorus plays a part. Grant Gershon’s group sang with luscious harmonies. Concertmaster Roberto Cani played the Méditation with jewel-like tones. Conductor Patrick Fournillier brought all the wide branching strands of this performance together with a firm hand but he allowed the singers enough room to sculpt their characters with the music.
Cast and production information:
Thaïs, Nino Machaidze; Athanaël, Placido Domingo; Nicias, Paul Groves; Palemon, Valentin Anikin; Crobyle, Hae Ji Chang; Myrtale, Cassandra Zoé Velasco; Abbess Albine, Milena Kitic; Cenobite Monks: Omar Crook; Reid Bruton; Todd Strange; Gregory Geiger; John Kimberling; Servant, Kihun Moon; Conductor, Patrick Fournillier; Director, Nicola Raab; Design, Johan Engels; Lighting, Linus Fellbom; Concertmaster Roberto Cani; Chorus Master, Grant Gershon.