Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
Joan of Arc at the Stake in Lyon
A review by Michael Milenski
Above: Audrey Bonnet as Jeanne [All photos courtesy of the Opéra de Toulon]
That Castellucci sought collaboration with Honegger and the dramatic oratorio’s author Paul Claudel to create this theater piece is no surprise. The Honegger work with its book by Paul Claudel was born in a Europe of clashing ideologies — political, artistic, technical, cultural — on the verge of self destruction. In fact the Prologue to the oratorio was added in 1944.
A time somewhat like the current moment in our now far larger world. Castellucci’s theatrical world explores an abyss of possibilities for any moment of tragedy in this or any world. For Castellucci theater is a unique language, well beyond the mere abstraction of musical language. To music Castellucci adds a tangible, physical world — real and simulated. There is the technical world that manipulates and colors the physical world and finally there is an interactive, interpretive world of infinite emotional perspectives.
It is unclear where or how you enter into Castellucci’s world, and it is also uncertain who you are. But you definitely immersed yourself Castellucci’s theater once you found yourself in Lyon’s opera house for Honegger’s mystère. The curtain rose in silence, a class of twenty-four 17 year-old girls studied silently in classroom made of reinforced concrete with period radiators and banks of neon lights. A bell rang, the girls sprang to life, noisily exited the class room and building. Faint ambient noises (dogs barking, cars, maybe sirens) were perceived over the next few minutes. A janitor appeared, swept a bit, began pulling the tables into the adjacent corridor, over time his actions took on urgency, and finally he violently and sonically heaved the last chairs and tables onto the giant pile in the corridor. He bolted the classroom door, isolating himself in the empty space.
It became apparent that the janitor was female, and we knew that soon she would be Jeanne d’Arc. She ripped the linoleum off the floor with its shrieking sound amplified, she tore out the planking and dug into the earth below. This was our 20 minute, maybe longer, maybe much longer journey into the language of Castellucci’s theatrical world.
Conductor Kazushi Ono now began Honegger’s oratorio. Joan of Arc is a speaking role, initially and through most of the piece her voice was electronically manipulated sometimes mixing it with the music, sometimes amplifying it to make clear and forceful words and sentences. Only in the last three scenes did Joan’s voice become her natural voice as she relived her childhood and accepted her martyrdom.
To be expected these final three scenes were riveting — Joan digging into the earth to find her sword, lifted into shining light, Joan dragging her dead horse, a very real horse, onto the stage and to the huge hole she had created, there followed the unforgettable imaged of Joan riding her horse. And then Joan, naked, covering herself with a white floury paste to make herself into the candle of her recalled nursery rhyme, and finally Joan, the stake itself, standing as the erect candle, an offering to the Virgin Mary.
As part of this image of Joan at the stake there then appeared an aged, maybe naked, figure who was (possibly) Joan herself as well as the saints of her visions, Catherine and Marguerite, and perhaps even the Virgin Mary.
Claudel and Honegger’s musical tragedy glories in the huge choruses of oratorio. In turn these choruses offered Castellucci the means to orient the action and to explain and advance the theatrical process. These choruses were indeed the Castellucci’s continuum, and they were persuasive. As well as, to use a Castellucci word, “gaseous.” We did not actually see the chorus until the curtain calls (it was a surprisingly small number of singers considering the size and presence of the chorus role).
The actress Audrey Bonnet from the National Theater de Strasbourg gave the tour de force — physical and emotional — performance of first the janitor then the maid of Orléans. Castelucci’s Joan d’Arc does not attempt to move us, or ask us to sublimate her tragedy into a transcendent experience, as had, for example, Jean-Paul Scarpitta’s 2005 Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher in Montpellier. Instead we participate in her suffering, a theatrical participation that leaves us outside any hope of mystical or emotional release. It is theater, nothing more (and what more should there be) and nothing less (it is very fine, challenging theater).
Some of the same things may be said of Honegger’s score (standard orchestra with the addition of three saxophones, an ondes martenot and two pianos). The musical perspective is outside looking in. It is “surface” (to use a Castellucci word) and not essence. Though not closely identified with any of the predominant styles of the early-mid twentieth century Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher is richly twentieth century in musical effect.
Cast and production information:
Jeanne d’Arc: Audrey Bonnet; Frère Dominique: Denis Podalydès; La Vierge: Ilse Eerens; Marguerite: Valentine Lemercier; Catherine: Marie Karall; Ténor solo (une voix, Porcus, 1er Héraut, Le Clerc): Jean-Noël Briend; Récitant: Didier Laval; Récitant: Louka Petit-Taborelli.
participation de Istvan Zimmermann & Giovanna Amoroso, Plastikart Studio. Chorus, children’s chous and orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon., Chœurs et Maîtrise de l'Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Kazushi Ono; Mise en scène, décors, costumes et lumières: Romeo Castellucci; Dramaturgie: Piersandra Di Matteo; Collaboratrice artistique Silvia Costa. Opera Nouvel, Lyon, France, January 31, 2017.