Saturday, 2 September 2006

From this Month's Opera

In his editorial, John Allison comments on the rumours that ENO may be reducing their season at the Coliseum and taking on a smaller London theatre for Baroque and contemporary music. This would certainly be an improvement. Many years ago, when the David Freeman production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo was new, it was premiered in a smaller theatre, in Nottingham I believe. At the time this was planned as a new way forward for this type of work, but of course nothing further came of it. Lets hope that ENO manage to do something like this convincingly this time.

In the interview with Christine Brewer, I note that her BBC Tristan is due imminently on the Warner Classics label. I can’t wait. We missed the concerts, alas, where the 3 acts of Tristan were spread over 3 different evenings (well spaced apart). Another memorable Brewer evening was when I heard the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment doing Verdi’s Requiem with Brewer as a fantastic soprano soloist. I’ve been hoping that this might have presaged a recording, but no such luck.

Reading about the opera house on the Caribbean island of Martinique, in Saint-Pierre, it was interesting to read that it had been destroyed by the volcanic eruption in 1902, which devastated the town – the worst volcanic eruption of the 20th century. I wonder if this was what inspired Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s novel ‘The Violins of St. Jacques’, which in turn inspired Malcolm Williamson’s opera. Interestingly the plot has a number of elements in common with Ronald Firbank’s novel ‘Valmouth’ which in turn inspired Sandy Wilson’s musical Valmouth.

Eduardo Arnosi in his review of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea from Buenos Aires comments that he prefers a male Nerone (granted this was said in the context of great approbation for the convincingness of the female singer in the role, Evelyn Ramirez). He did not specify which octave the male singer would be singing at and left the impression that he’d be quite happy doing violence to Monteverdi’s score by using a tenor; I hope not.!

A new production of Dido and Aeneas in Vienna, directed by Deborah Warner; Christopher Norton-Welsh describes it as half-serious, half-guying. Sorry, but I’ve seen plenty of productions where the witches were serious and scary rather than funny and don’t see the need to introduce any more humour into the work.

Simon Rattle’s new Rheingold at the Aix en Provence festival is noted as running for 15 minutes under 3 hours. John Allison points out that Wagner noted that the opera lasted exactly 2 and a half hours; I wish more attention was paid to Wagner’s timings. He was often a careful noter of times; Roger Norrington used Wagner’s timings in his performances of the overtures to revelatory effect, notably Tristan and Die Meistersinger.

Jochen Kowalski cropped up as the Astrologer in Rimsky Korsakov’s Golden Cockerel in Berlin. Kowalski is a singer whose name seems to have dropped from the lime-light recently. But a long essay could be written about the voice type necessary for this role. I’ve heard both tenors and counter-tenors doing it (at Scottish Opera and with the Royal Opera) and it works far better with a tenor who is prepared to give us a head voice/falsetto extension. Most counter tenors seem to lack the incisiveness necessary for the lower register.

The cover photo was of the new Moses and Aaron in Munich. Produced by David Pountney, it was Peter Jonas’s swan song. What it swan song it seems to have been. John Allison liked the production and with John Daszak and John Tomlinson as the brothers, it had a strong cast. It is good to see Daszak finding international form in good roles.

A lovely comment from Rodney Milnes about an Athenian production of Don Carlos: He appeared to have brought his own flattering costumes and played the role mainly from the thighs


Minnesota seems to have been the place to be in America this year. Minnesota Opera offered Mercadante’s Orazi e Curiazi, enterprisingly moved to the American Civil War, as well as the first American performances of Laurent Petigirard’s Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. I reviewed a recording of this fascinating score and was not sure how well it would work on stage; I’d love to have seen the Minnesota performances.

Elsewhere in America, Francesca Zamballo is doing a Ring in Washington, mining American mythology for the iconography. Rhinemaidens in the underwear of disreputable salon ladies, Alberich panning for gold, gods dress as for a Scott Fitzgerald novel, Nibelheim full of slaves. It sounds fascinating and remarkably convincing. I’ll be interested to read about subsequent instalments in the cycle.

Ian Fox describes the Castleward Opera’s performances of Balfe’s The Bohemian Girl as probably the worst show ever presented here. They seem to have cut over an hour’s worth of music; this is a shame and makes nonsense of the piece, even though it is a long score. I thing a decent performance of the opera is long over due.

Patrick O’Connor’s review of the concert performance of Don Giovanni from the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Barbican includes the fascinating nugget of information that in the 19th century it was Zerlina that was considered to be the main role in the opera!

Iford Festival Opera produced Lucia di Lammermoor this year. Their venue is the Italianate cloister at Iford Manor, whose garden was laid out by the Edwardian garden designer Harold Peto. It sounds just the venue for the opera, even in a chamber version, especially as they managed to include a glass harmonica in the instrumental ensemble.

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