31 Jul 2014
Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
“Hi! 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.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.
Even more meaningfully, this perfection was mixed with joy and humour. This was an hommage to Rameau, whose 250th anniversary we celebrate, But for us in the audience, it was also an hommage to William Christie, who founded Les Arts Florissants in 1979. Christie and the generations of artists he has inspired blend new scholarly research with musical intelligence.
In his lifetime, Rameau was something of a radical. Christie and modern baroque specialists present Rameau's music as vinrantly as it might have been when was still new. Deus noster refugium (1713) (God is our refuge) begins in relatively conventional mode, suitable for decorous church performance. Then a wilder, almost dance-like mood takes over, ushered in by "footsteps"in the vocal line, where each syllable is deliberately defined. The voices sing with firm conviction, while the forces around them are in tumult. With a little imagination, we can hear, as Lindsay Kemp describes in his programme notes, "''mountains' cast into the sea (bursts of tremolos and rushing scales in the strings, stoically resisted by firmly regular crotchets in the three solo voices; swelling waters (smooth but restless choral writing over forward-driving strings); and finally streams that 'filled the city of God with joy' a gigue-like aria for soprano with solo violin".
Quam dilecta tabernacula (1713-15?) (How lovely is thy dwelling place) allows Rameau to write elaboately decorative fugal patterns. Rameau, the master of technical form, also manages to evoke the beauty of the outdoors. The piece begins with very high soprano, accompanied by delicate winds : pastoral, sensual and mysteriously unearthly. The choruses introduce a livelier mood, which might suggest fecundity and vigorous growth. The soprano solo is balanced by a tenor solo, then later by baritone. Elegant design, reminiscent of baroque gardens, laid out in tight formation. When the soloists sing in ensemble, and later with full chorus, the voices entwine gracefully.
The version of In convertendo Dominus (Psalm 126, When the Lord turned again the Captivity of Zion) only now exists in a revision made for Holy Week in 1751. The piece begins with a wonderful part for very high tenor, presaging the passion later French opera would have for the voice type. Do we owe Enée and Robert le Diable to Rameau? Reinoud Van Mechelen's voice rang nicely, joined by the other five soloists in merry, lilting chorus that suggests laughter. The bass Cyril Costanzo's art was enhanced by whip-like flourishes of brass and wind. Even lovelier, the well decorated soprano passages, which lead into a beautiful blending of solo voices and orchestra. A pause: and then the exquisite chorus. "They that go out weeping....shall come back in exultation, carrying their sheaves with them. Christie balances the voices so finely that one really hears "sheaves", united and golden.
If these Grand Motets weren't enough, Christie continued with so many encores that the BBC schedule was thrown off kilter, and only one can be heard on rebroadcast. Haha! I thought, admiring Christie's bravado. Since I'd come for the music (and for Les Arts Flo) I was glad I could stay, and not worry about mundane things like missing the last bus. "Hahahahahaha " went the chorus in the excerpt from Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville's In exitu Israel (1753) on exactly the same subject. A brilliant choice! Just as in Rameaus In convertendo Dominus, the Hebrews are laughing because they've been freed. Rameau's laughter is more subtle, Mondonville's more crude, "crowd pleasing" to the point of being coarse. Christie is making a point. Mondonville was more fashionable at the time, but as we know now, Rameau has had the last laugh.
Christie continued with an extract from Rameau's Castor et Pollux which was used with words of the, Kyrie Eléison for Rameau's funeral Mass. The opera and its successors meant a lot to the composer, and to Christie, who conducted Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne last year (read my review HERE). Christie is no fool. Respect his choices. He knows baroque style better than most, and chose as director Jonathan Kent, with whom he created the magnificent Glyndebourne Purcell The Fairy Queen. "If it's good enough for Bill Christie", my companion said, "It's good enough for me". At the interval at Glyndebourne we bumped into Christie himself, and told him. He beamed with delight, his eyes twinkling. "That's what I like", he grinned.
Christie and Les Arts Florissantes ended with an excerpt from Les Indes Galantes, their greatest hit, which revolutionized public perceptions of the genre. The baroque era was audacious, given to extravagant, crazy extremes. People embraced the new world outside Europe, and delighted in exotic fantasy. Po-faced litera;ism is an aberration of late 20th century culture, dominated by TV. To really appreciate baroque style, it helps to understand the period. "You have to steep yourself in historical, performance practice", says Christie. "it has to become completely natural and spontaneous. If the public starts to become aware of the archaeological aspects, then we've failed. I think one of the reasons we've had success in Les Arts Florissants is because we've become completely instinctive". This fabulous Prom unleashed the joy, energy and wit in the style. Christie makes Rameau, and the spirit of his age, come alive.