Recently in Performances
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?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
11 Jun 2014
Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago
In its annual concert devoted to performances by current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Opera of Chicago showcased a roster of talented singers who will doubtless add greatly to operatic and concert stages of the immediate future.
All of the singers performed their
chosen pieces and ensembles admirably, indeed each selection as sung was
memorable for the degree of lyrical and dramatic commitment transmitted. As a
supplement to the vocal offerings Maureen Zoltek, the Ryan Opera Center’s new
pianist, played the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The
conductor for the entire program was Kelly Kuo.
The first half of the program spanned operatic selections, in four
languages, ranging from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. The
second half of the evening was dominated by American and French selections
after the performance of the movement from the Ravel Concerto. Perhaps most
revealing from this program was the opportunity to hear each of the talented
singers in a variety of repertoire, with performances that emphasized an
encouraging versatility. As an example of such range, Tracy Cantin sang, in the
first part of the concert, Cressida’s recitative and aria, “How can I
At the haunted end of the day,” from Sir William Walton’s
Troilus and Cressida. Ms. Cantin’s involvement in this brief
evocation of the title character was riveting. Her searing top notes
emphasizing “betrayed” and “a phantom” led to the dramatic concluding
declaration of “my conqueror.” In the second part of the program Cantin was
equally impressive in a very different role, the concluding scene of Jules
Massenet’s Thaïs. Here as she was supported by the Athanaël of
baritone Anthony Clark Evans the vision of Thaïs came alive and her
transformation from courtesan to saint was believable. Cantin produced soft,
pure pitches in contrast to the appropriately urgent, sincere appeals by Evans.
The final “Je vois Dieu” [“I see God”] communicated the apotheosis of a
blessed figure. A comparable set of performances was offered by bass-baritone
Richard Ollarsaba. In his rendering of Figaro’s Act IV aria, “Tutto è
Aprite un po quegl’occhi” [“All is prepared
eyes a little”], Ollarsaba demonstrated excellent sense of color and the
ability to use his resonant sound as a means to suggesting varying emotional
states. Even within the single word “Ingrata” the expressive range that
Ollarsaba attached to individual vowels communicated both distress felt by the
character portrayed and a growing sense of irritation. Ollarsaba’s later
contribution was also by Mozart, this time in the trio ensemble, “Soave sia
il vento,” from Act I of Così fan tutte, sung together with soprano
Laura Wilde and mezzo soprano Julie Anne Miller. Each of the three performers
retained a distinct vocal personality while also blending effectively at
requisite moments. As Don Alfonso, Ollarsaba’s upper register and fluid
legato connecting multiple pitches outlined an impressive backdrop for
the myriad emotions expressed, just as the women’s voices rose and fell in
touching pathos. In their solo pieces during the concert both Miller and Wilde
also gave exciting performances. Ms. Miller showed a masterful sense of
Handelian style in the aria of the title character, “Dopo notte,” [“After
night”] from Act III of Ariodante. While communicating the sense of
the text, Miller took the word “splende” [“radiantly”] with appropriate
forte emphasis. Especially noteworthy are Miller’s breath control
and Italian diction, both serving her well in the embellishments she used in
the repeat of the A section of the aria. In the second part of the program Ms.
Wilde sang Marguerite’s aria, “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux!,” [“O God! What
jewels!”] from Gounod’s Faust; she held a mirror in hand and acted
through her character’s delight with the jewel box as she sang this famous
showpiece aria. In decorating the line of this piece Wilde was careful in
observing textual import, so that her decorations on the “princesse,” whom
she fantasized at becoming, were especially well chosen. Her final notes showed
an emotional outburst that spoke more of the character’s naïveté than of
her entrancement with the jewels produced by Mephistopheles.
Among other singers performing in both solo and shared pieces J’nai
Bridges gave a sublime account of Sapho’s aria, “Où suis je
Ô ma lyre
immortelle” [“Where am I
o my immortal lyre”] from Gounod’s opera
Sapho. Bridges led the listeners into Sapho’s emotional world, the
character’s distress at the end of her life being expressed in contrasting
lines with “nuit eternal” [“eternal night”] and “douleur”
[“pain”], both descending to full deep notes, and her wounded “cor”
[“heart”] showing the singer’s glistening upper register. As Sapho’s
inevitable act of suicide approached, Bridges’s voice rose at the
contemplation “sous les andes” [“beneath the waves”]; she invoked her
watery death with chilling, individual low pitches on “dans las mer” [“in
the sea”] before appealing to the ocean to indeed open itself up [“ouvre
toi”] with a final, shockingly dramatic top note on the repetition of “dans
la mer.” A very different sort of character emerged in her duet from
Porgy and Bess, shared with the Porgy of baritone Will Liverman. Mr.
Liverman has an excellent command of legato which he sustained
throughout, just as Bridges declared “I’s your woman now.” Both
singers’ voices suggested the mutually enveloping emotions of their
characters as the line “We is one now” remained the predominant theme
communicated. In his solo contribution, “Batter my heart” from John
Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Liverman showed very effectively the tension
felt by Oppenheimer as he struggled with the responsibilities of his scientific
research and its effects on humanity. Yet another couple deserves mention for
their vocal and dramatic commitment. Soprano Emily Birsan and tenor John Irvin
sang a delightful account of “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera” from Act I of
Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Both artists demonstrated their
ease and technical skill at bel canto singing, while each was
especially sensitive to weaving a lyrical statement that suggested a growing
sense of attraction and an independent resistance to the same. As a fitting
conclusion to the evening the latter two performers were joined by Miller,
Evans, and Ollarsaba, as well as the full ensemble, in “The promise of
living” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land.