Recently in Performances
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
06 Jul 2014
Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford
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?
La Fille has certainly been derided over the years for its vulgarity and
jingoistic tendencies. Yet dig a little deeper and you find that the canny
Donizetti was also in fact essaying a new direction away from the
all-conquering Italian opera of his time and, by a slick piece of “art
concealing (or revealing?) art”, he was on the way to creating a new style.
Indeed he had more than 20 years of compositional experience behind him by the
time Fille hit the stage in 1839/40, and he used all his considerable
wiles to achieve his aims. Perhaps Theophile Gautier best summed up this work
as “facile et spirituelle” — and certainly it seduces with its
infectiously gay (in the original sense),light, and bright music as much as it
explores the weightier themes of nationalism, feminism and the human response
to loss and war, despite skimming over them with a gossamer thread of catchy
tunes. So how to bring all this to a tiny space in the Wiltshire countryside?
Suzanne Shakespeare as Marie
Director Jeff Clarke and his designers Nigel Howard & Graham Wynne and
conductor Toby Purser simply threw away the rule book for this English-language
version and solved the production “problems” with panache, wit, imagination
and, well, plenty of va-va-vroom. Literally almost, as the Regiment is
converted to a South Californian Hell’s Angels-type biker gang, all six of
them beautifully kitted out in full leathers, tattoos and bandanas riding some
interesting-looking “Darley Havisons”. They are “at war” with a rival
gang and so immediately we understand what Clarke is doing and are seduced into
this early 1960’s version of the Napoleonic wars. Marsha Berkenfield, social
climber in LA, her daintily-camp butler Mr.Hortensius, Sulpice is
“president” of the Regiment gang, Dulcie Crackenthorpe an appalling old
heiress, Tonio a Hispanic immigrant (serendipitously cast) and Marie as in the
original, an orphan “found” by the Regiment as a baby. True, there is the
odd surgical cut: no room, literally, for the opening scene with the
“Marquess” and Tyrolean peasants praying for deliverance en masse — but
apart from that Clarke has kept very close to the original opera. The libretto
however was definitely given a far freer rein by Clarke: plenty of choice biker
language, plenty of near-the-knuckle anti-Hispanic invective.
Any “Fille” anywhere has always been an opera which stands or falls by
the success of its Daughter of the Regiment; over the decades it has been
defined by many by the quality of the soprano singing the role of Marie —
from Jenny Lind, via the great Dame Joan Sutherland, and on to such modern day
successes as Natalie Dessay. So it was a delight and a relief to hear young
Australian-born soprano Suzanne Shakespeare take on the mantle with a fearless
display of sparkling coloratura, trills and even a few decorations of her own.
Her voice has both a warm middle and a shining top: E flats popped with aplomb,
yet with “Il faut partir...” her goodbye to the gang in Act One,
she found a touching pathos, ably drawn. A bravura performance from start to
finish — a young star on the high road for sure. So then, of course, there is
the “will he, won’t he” aspect of Tonio’s (in)famous “Mes
amis....”. If young Spanish tenor Jesus Alvarez was nervous, it didn’t
show. We might have been nervous for him for in that intimate space and
orchestration for just eleven instruments, but yes he delivered all nine of
those high Cs with conviction and bang in tune.
Jesús Álvarez as Tonio
However, no matter how thrilling the young leads were, or how convincing
their acting, here at Iford it was the role of Sulpice, sung by the excellent
Adrian Clarke which held the whole show together. Totally in the part from
start to finish, beautifully observed, expressively sung, what a tour de force
he gave us. Almost as impressive was Katharine Taylor Jones’ Marsha
Berkenfield, a statuesque figure wearing the vintage dresses with assurance and
poise, her warm mezzo voice supple through the range. A comically-awful Dulcie
Crakenthopre was played in drag by one of the bikers, Philip Cox who obviously
had a lot of fun mixing his roles. James Harrison’s mincing butler was the
right side of caricature and kept the laughs coming. A word must be said here
for the biker gang: sung by Cox, Richard Belshaw, Graham Stone, Martin George,
Angus McAllister and Richard Woodall, this was no ordinary “chorus” job.
With only six voices to fill out Donizetti’s wonderful music each was a true
soloist, each a significant actor. The same must be said of the 11 players of
that music: from opening solo trumpet to resounding final chords, nowhere to
hide and nowhere needed.
The production team kept it simple but effective with the cloister converted
to a tract of dry desert and cacti. The Music Lesson was ingeniously staged
with an electronic keyboard masquerading as a grand piano, in turn doing duty
as a dance-stage. Clever, witty, and it worked. Which, really, sums up this
mini-triumph of the imagination. A must-see if you can.
La Fille du Regiment (sung in English), Iford Opera, Saturday, July
Opera della Luna at Iford Opera playing: July 8th,
10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and