Recently in Performances
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
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Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
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Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
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drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
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concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
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For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
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Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
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.