Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
12 Jul 2014
Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell
‘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.
As the four-bar circular ground basses unfolded, theorbo-player and director
Christina Pluhar and her musical partners produced an ever-changing
kaleidoscope of harmonic, rhythmic and textural variations, blending the
‘authentic’ Baroque with the relaxed rhythms and evocative colours of jazz,
folk and world music; the idioms segued seamlessly, underpinned by a firm
structural core and articulated with astonishing skill and imagination.
Around countertenor Philippe Jaroussky’s effortlessly graceful melodies,
the instrumentalists invented and improvised, intuitively conversing with the
other voices in the musical exchange and demonstrating consummate understanding
of the art of Baroque extemporisation and ornamentation combined with the
flexible responsiveness of modern jazz.
Jaroussky sings with wonderful precision and control; his beautiful, clean
sound strokes the long, phrases into being, with just a dash of flexibility to
bring a modern touch to the classical melodies. In ‘An evening hymn’ and
‘O solitude, my sweetest choice’ the vocal line, at times pure, then more
sensuous, seemed to float in and out of the instrumental solos; in the latter,
Sarah Ridy’s harp commentary was especially affecting. ‘Strike the viol’
was more rhythmically free and like the bawdy ‘‘Twas within a furlong of
Edinboro’ Town’ (from The Mock Marriage) had an infectious energy,
driven by Boris Schmidt’s springy bass. Jaroussky displayed a judicious
feeling for the comic in ‘Man is for the woman made’, performed as a wry
encore; elsewhere he emphasised the ethereal beauty of Purcell’s sighing
melodies, as in ‘One charming night’ from The Faerie Queen.
One could not pick out an individual instrumentalist for especial praise;
this is truly a collective performance and they all impressed both in the
Purcell inventions and in the intervening instrumental items such as Maurizio
Cazzati’s Ciaccona Op.22 No.14 and Nicola Matteis’s La dia
Spagnola, in which the centuries between the time of composition and the
modern world seemed to disappear. Doron Sherwin’s cornetto was by turns
expressive and seductive, enfolding the voice, and bright and jazzy, his
extravagant flourishes thrilling as they chased the racing embellishments of
Veronika Skuplik’s baroque violin. All the players moved between modes and
moods with total naturalness; the merest changes of articulation effected
imperceptible transitions, as when Schmidt’s tender pizzicato strokes took on
a brighter, jazzier hue, lifting a melancholy, introspective ground bass into a
When I heard L’Arpeggiata in October last year, I noted that percussionist
David Mayoral’s ‘astonishing percussion playing drew gasps
as he coaxed
a magical array of tones and beats, sometimes simultaneously, from the simplest
of musical means: a single drum skin emitted a panoply of strokes, taps and
pitches.’ Mayoral cast his percussive spell once more in an extended
improvisation in which he seemed almost entranced by his own rhythmic
invocation, his hypnotic riff bringing a smile of pleasure and affection to the
lips of his fellow musicians.
Pluhar’s wonderful invention and technical mastery was showcased in
Giovanni Kapsberger’s Toccata arpeggiata; and,
in the closing song, the plaint ‘O let me weep’ from The Faerie
Queen,Skuplik and Jaroussky wove a wonderfully sensitive duet for
baroque violin and voice, profound with melancholy.
L’Arpeggiata did not simply perform arrangements of Purcell; rather they
created entirely new, highly original, works. Their musicianship, technical
prowess and the joy that their shared musical dialogue so obviously inspired,
both on the platform and among the audience of the Wigmore Hall, made this
performance an absolute delight. It was standing-room only, and two encores —
a wry touch of self-parody followed by a beautifully simple rendition of
Dido’s lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’ — just didn’t seem enough.
The final bass pizzicato whispered and faded into the still air; a magical,
otherworldly moment to close an utterly bewitching performance.
Performers and programme:
Christina Pluhar — director, theorbo; Philippe Jaroussky —
countertenor; Veronika Skuplik — baroque violin; Doron Sherwin — cornetto;
Sarah Ridy — baroque harp; Eero Palviainen — lute; Boris Schmidt — double
bass; David Mayoral — percussion; Francesco Turrisi —harpsichord, organ;
Haru Kitamika — harpsichord, organ. Wigmore Hall, London, Thursday
10th July 2014.
Cazzati, Ciaccona; Purcell, ‘Music for a while’,
‘‘Twas within a furlong of Edinboro’ Town’; Matteis, La dia
Spagnola; Purcell, ‘An evening hymn’, ‘Strike the viol’;
Kapsberger, Toccata arpeggiata; Purcell, ‘O solitude, my sweetest
choice’, ‘Two in One upon a Ground’, ‘A Prince of glorious race
descended’, ‘One charming night’; Anonymous (instrumental); Purcell,
‘How the Deities approve’; Improvisation; Purcell, ‘Curtain tune’,