Recently in Performances
Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
27 Jul 2014
Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.
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.
As was the fashion, the “new” opera of the 1640s celebrated the precedence of the text over the music. It was said that music served to illustrate and therefore followed the text of the drama in every way, allowing the musicians to fill in the chords between the vocal and bass lines as they wished. More complete orchestration, it was thought, should be confined to musical interludes and aria-type passages. This theory has, it must be admitted, caused many of today’s early musicians many headaches!
At Iford, director Justin Way and conductor Christian Curnyn have sensibly foregone the usual “Prologue” as the original libretto by Badoaro established the fact that humans are just playthings at the mercy of the gods - Time, Fortune and Love .However, after this he also leaps into the story of our hero near the end of his trials and travels, and so we join the story as Penelope weeps and waits for her husband to return, pestered by ambitious suitors, whilst Ulysses is washed up on the shores of Ithaca unaware that the goddess Minerva has an idea......
Elisabeth Cragg as Minerva
This Iford Opera production, sung in English, made the most of the tiny space with a vaguely “ancient/mythological” blue flooring design and subdued (and occasionally wayward) lighting. Costumes were also vaguely modern with more than a touch of the dressing-up box, but did little to disturb the intense drama of the piece. A production which served rather than inspired.
However, it was, rightly, the music and the drama which stayed with the audience as we departed into a ridiculously warm and starlit night in the depths of the Wiltshire countryside. Curnyn’s group of eight superb early instrument specialists - with himself at the harpsichord almost part of the drama from time to time - drew us into this time-warp of sound with grace, style and (even more difficult on a sultry evening) amazingly good tuning.
Jonathan McGovern as Ulysses and Rowan Hellier as Penelope
Of the 12 young singers there can only be praise, and they kept up Iford’s reputation for high quality vocalism. The restricted acting space requires complete immersion in the role as there is literally nowhere to hide when so close to the audience and as actors some were better than others. Here experience tended to tell: standouts had to be Rowan Hellier as a noble, plangent Penelope with rich mezzo tones throughout; Jonathan McGovern as the wandering hero Ulysses who brought a powerful tenor which also could spin a line with ease, and Daniel Auchincloss as the faithful servant/shepherd Eumaeus, who’s early music experience, high tenor and appealing stage presence made themselves felt. Among the more minor roles, the resonant snarling bass of Callum Thorpe as one of the nicely-delineated three suitors was memorable.
Monteverdi is not an “easy” option for any summer festival opera series and Iford Opera is to be congratulated for finding exactly the right mix of musicians and singers to convince and perhaps convert those for whom this was a first experience of how it all started so very long ago.
Click here for cast and production information.