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“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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
08 Aug 2014
Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms
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.
The main work in the programme was Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, which took up the whole of the second half of the concert. The actor Rory Kinnear provided the narration, speaking Deryck Cooke's translation of Jean Cocteau's original. Kinnear was amplified, so that his narration had a rather intimate, confiding quality. It worked very well, but I did wonder whether something more monumentally declamatory might have been more in keeping with Stravinsky's vision.
The chorus plays an important role in the piece, and here the men of the BBC Singers were joined by the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus to provide a very strong choral contribution. Their opening chorus combined monumentality with some wonderfully incisive and crisply controlled rhythms. Oramo kept the fast passages quiet so that the chorus's contribution was intensified, at times almost whispering. Throughout the piece, the chorus commented on the action sometimes with crisp, chugging motifs and sometimes with stronger, darker feelings. When the Messenger (Duncan Rock) came to tell of Jocasta's death, it was the chorus which took over the major role in a bizarrely jolly chorus which the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus sang with terrifying relish and pinpoint rhythms. The final, powerful chorus was a complete tour de force.
Allan Clayton was a very strong Oedipus, displaying a combination of power, focus and control. The role requires a tenor who can sing with a reasonable amount of dramatic bite, but who can cope with Stravinsky's rather florid writing. Clayton was just about ideal, in the way his tenor rang out over the orchestra but you could hear every detail and appreciate the sense of line. He managed to combine the strongly dramatic moments with some lovely lyric ones, plus a good feel for the language; and his final, short speech was profoundly moving.
Jocasta is a relatively short role, but an important one and Hilary Summers sang her solo with a wonderful combination of directness and her familiar straight tones, but still managed to bring in a seductive element too. Her duet with Clayton's Oedipus was one of the high points of the drama, full of thrilling vocal moments and wonderful orchestral detail.
Brindley Sherratt was admirably firm and trenchant as Tiresias. Juha Uusitalo's Creon was vivid enough, but his tone was rather too blustery for my taste. Duncan Rock made a fine Messenger, with strong, dark tones and powerful delivery. He was joined by Samuel Boden's as a rather pressured Shepherd.
There were moments in the performance when the balance was not ideal, though I realise that this varies depending on where you sit in the auditorium (I was in seat H61, going through door J in the Stalls). Whilst Oramo kept the orchestra under fine control, there was a feeling that the soloists would have had a rather more favourable time if the orchestra had been in a pit, although there is no pit at the royal Albert Hall. .
The orchestra contributed some finely thrilling playing, wonderfully controlled and crisp but still powerful. This period of writing in Stravinsky's career requires performers to combine accuracy with thrilling power, the devil is always in the detail. Here all the details were present, with terrific rhythmic precision and control and some lovely solo details in the orchestra, and combining into an ideal whole.
The concert started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture the best known of the incidental music that he wrote in 1810 for Goethe's play Egmont. Throughout Oramo kept things on a tight rein, and you felt the tension, drama and shimmering excitement. I had a couple of worries, though. With the large body of strings, the balance with the woodwind did not seem ideal and in the louder tutti moments, the strings tended to obscure the wind. The ending, though controlled, seemed a little too buttoned up. I wanted the final bars to let go a bit more.
Also in the first half, Brett Dean's Electric Preludes which was written in 2011-2012 for his friend Richard Tognetti to perform on the electric violin. This is a new instrument, where the instrument functions very much like an electric guitar with the sound requiring amplification and providing scope for a wide range of electro-acoustic effects. The instrument was also equipped with extra strings, taking the sound into the cello territory. Dean has already written a concerto for the conventional violin and this new piece pits the Electric Violin against a string orchestra in six movements with evocative titles, Abandoned Playground, Topography - Papunya, Peripeteia, The Beyonds of Mirrors, Perpetuum Mobile and Berceuse.Dean's work explored the endless possibilities for variations of textures that his combination of solo electric violin and strings gave him. Each of the movements was very much a character piece, exploring a particular mood, and it was mood and texture which were important rather than specific melodic material. I have to confess that I am still not sure about the electric violin as a solo instrument, but Francesco D'Orazio was clearly a virtuoso and was finely supported by Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Beethoven: Egmont Overture; Brett Dean: Electric Preludes
Oedipus: Allan Clayton, Jocasta: Hilary Summers, Creon: Juha Uusitalo, Tiresias: Brindley Sherratt, Messenger: Duncan Rock, Shepherd: Samuel Boden, Speaker: Rory Kinnear
Francesco D'Orazio: Electric violin
BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo: Conductor
BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Prom 28, 7 August 2014