Saturday, 30 September 2006
Tuesday, 26 September 2006
Ursi Carmina, the new piece written for London Concord Singers 40th Anniversary is now bedding down quite well in rehearsal. The programme has been finalised and will include Harris's Faire is the Heaven, Naylor's Vox dicentes: Clama besides the 2 pieces with orchestra - Handel's Birthday Ode for Queen Anne and Mozart's Sancta Maria Mater Dei.
We are singing the Handel in a German edition and it includes a German version of the words. They are hardly a translation as Queen Anne is not mentionned at all and her name repeatedly crops up in the English text.
Monday, 25 September 2006
The libretto is by Eugene Scribe, who wrote the librettos for many of the major French grand operas of the period. It uses his standard formula of contrasting major public spectacle with private torment. In this case the council of Konstanz forms the back drop for the more private dramas of the Jew Eleazar and his daughter Rachel. As in most Scribe librettos, a certain degree of unlikely co-incidence is included; Eleazar finds Cardinal Brogni’s daughter as an infant and adopts her. Years later Eleazar and Brogni clash and only after Rachel’s execution does Eleazar tell Brogni that she was his daughter. The opera pits the church’s persecution of Jews against Rachel’s illicit love for Christian Leopold. Eleazar is by no means a stereotypical character. He is by no means likeable and is bad tempered and rather grasping, but this is off-set by his love for his daughter.
The opera’s hit number is Eleazar’s Rachel, Quand O seigneur in which Eleazar sings of his love for his daughter whilst in prison. Eleazar was written for the Paris Opera’s star tenor, Nourrit. At the Barbican the role was taken by Dennis O’Neill; whilst O’Neill’s voice shows some signs of age his art is still impressive and in Rachel, Quand O seigneur he encompassed some fine mezza-voce singing. O’Neill’s Eleazar was a fully rounded character and O’Neill made his final moments profoundly moving.
As his daughter, Rachel, Marina Poplavskaya was stunning. She looks dramatic with her long hair and is able to spin a lovely fine line. The role of Rachel was created by Cornelie Falcon and it is modern in the way that the music eschew’s elaborate ornament and relies on the expressive line of the music. Poplavskaya gave no indication that she was singing a rarely performed role, her performance was dramatically fully rounded and not at all inhibited by the concert surroundings.
As Eleazar’s nemesis, Cardinal Brogni, Alastair Miles gave a thundering performance. But even here, the character is not all one-sided and Miles was able to display warmth and concern in the opening Act.
Dario Schmuck was Prince Leopold, Rachel’s love interest. Leopold is pretending to Rachel that he is a Jew called Samuel and it is Rachel’s unmasking of Leopold that leads her and Eleazar’s imprisonment. Schmuck made what he could of Leopold’s rather frivolous love interest and made a fine contribution to the dramatic ensemble with Rachel and Eleazar when Eleazar discovers the lovers trying to flee. Unfortunately, Leopold disappears entirely after Act 3 and has no involvement in the opera’s denouement.
His wife, Princess Eudoxie, has a small role to play dramatically but her musical role is to supply the elaborate roulades which are missing from Rachel’s music. Nicole Cabell tossed of Eudoxie’s elaborate arias with enviable charm and ability.
Halevy and Scribe alternate public and private acts and it is in the 2 private acts, Act2 and Act 4, that the nub of the drama occurs. Act 4 is set in prison and concludes with the aforementioned Rachel, Quand O seigneur. Act 2, set in Eleazar’s house, opens with a moving setting of the Passover meal, this is followed by the dramatic confrontation between Eleazar, Rachel and Leopold. All contributed to create strong, moving drama here.
The drama was a little slow to start, much of Act 1 seemed to be concerned with scene setting. But once Act 2 started, the drama took wing. Daniel Oren kept the proceedings moving and though the opera has quite a slow fuse there were few longeurs.
All of the singers were admirable in the way they presented the opera dramatically and their performances were most definitely not welded to their scores as can happen in this type of presentation.
It was admirable of the Royal Opera to present this piece and the concert performance was surprisingly involving. But I would still love to see it staged.
Sunday, 24 September 2006
Friday, 22 September 2006
First on, it was at the Barbican rather than the Royal Opera House which meant that the stage was full to bursting with the huge chorus, orchestra and soloists. In fact the stage had beene extended forward, thus taking out 2 rows of seats and meaning that our seats, usually perfectly decent if not wonderful, gave us a side view of the soloists (someone commented that we got a good view of their shoes). The performance was so involving that this didn't matter.
The opera is notoriously long, all the French grands operas are long. In fact, on the first night it ran from 7pm to 12.30am, but was subsequently cut. The Paris Opera employed an interesting form of democracy when it came to cuts, the first night of operas was pretty uncut, then after that the least popular bits were cut!
The Royal Opera's production was advertised as starting at 6.30pm; so we assumed we were in for a long evening. Getting to the Barbican for 6.30pm can be tricky and D. did not manage it, which meant that at the end of Act 1, when he could reasonably be expected to be let in to his seat, he and the other late comers were coralled into the balcony instead. Annoying but not disastrous.
The performance was advertised as being in 2 halves, Acts 1 and 2 (running time 90 minutes), 25 minute interval, Acts 3, 4 and 5 (running time 85 minutes). In fact it went on a little longer but was finished by 10pm. So why on earth did they start the show at 6.30pm, 7.00pm would have been far better.
Someone in the management was obviously worried about what time the show finished. The show was cut; I could see the orchestral parts and there was barely a page without some pasting over. But they even dropped numbers which were mentionned in the programme (Princess Eudoxie and Rachel's Act 3 duet, the opening chorus and funeral march of Act 5). The programme also mentionned that there would have been a 2nd interval after Act 4.
By my calculations, they could quite easily have run the show exactly as it was performed but starting at 7.00pm and finishing at 10.30pm, surely kinder to the punters. Or, even better, start at 6.30pm , finish at 10.30pm, have 2 intervals (20 minute and 15 minutes) and open a few of the cuts.
The programme book was excellent but nowhere did we learn the rationale behind the version that we were hearing.
Oh and one more thing, for such a long opera, why not a Saturday performance.
Willan’s music is not well represented in the catalogue and the Elora
Festival Singers enable us to listen to this music in clean, shapely,
musical performances. ...
And my review of Palestrina's Canticum Canticorum is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
The definitive recording of has yet to be made. Whilst this one has
attractive qualities, it is not really a recording that I would want to live with.
Thursday, 21 September 2006
Tuesday, 19 September 2006
Clear and lucid but not a light book. Fascinating biographical chapters.
If you have any interest in viol consorts then this is profoundly illuminating.
Monday, 18 September 2006
Saturday, 16 September 2006
Of course, young in opera terms is relative; most of the singers had complete post-graduate training and some had even had professional experience. But in an opera like Eugene Onegin, where many of the protagonists are young, it is of some advantage to have young singers cast in the roles.
For many sopranos playing Tatiana, the first 2 acts are tricky. They have to play young and it is only in the final act that they can relax into the role. For Katrina Broderick the opposite was rather true. In the first 2 acts she was wonderfully convincing as the shy, rather plump, dreamy Tatiana; profoundly embarrassed at having to entertain Onegin. In the Act 2 party, she was the shy wall flower, profoundly disliking the attention.
Broderick has a lovely, bright focussed voice with a clear sense of line. You can understand why she was asked to sing Tatiana, but I suspect that she will not be doing so in 10 years time – more dramatic roles surely beckon. Her letter scene was expressive and musical and in indicator of what she might do in the future.
As her Onegin, George von Bergen was nearly ideal. He had just that right combination of sneer and sexy swagger. You could understand why Tatiana fell for him even though you did not really like him. His voice was apt to go a little dry at the top but he sang the role with a good sense of line. I’m sure he will be singing this role in 10 years time and, as baritones tend to mature slowly, I look forward to hearing him sing it then. If he sings the role so well now, what will 10 years of experience do.
Neither Clara Mouritz nor Shaun Dixon were ideal for the roles of Olga or Lensky, their voices surely point in other directions. But Mouritz made a fine, perky Olga and in the Act 2 party scene mixed flirtiness, puzzlement and tragedy. Both Mouritz and Dixon were wonderfully convincing in their portrayal of the young lovers. All the scenes with the 4 young people in Acts 1 and 2 were infectiously engaging, you did not have to make any allowances at all.
When it came to tragedy, Dixon was dramatically very moving but his voice simply lacked the sense of line that I would like in the role. Dixon is fine, dramatic singer. In other roles he will shine, as Lensky he was never less than creditable.
The supporting roles were all very well taken. Catherine Hopper and Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir were excellent as Madame Larina and Filipyevna, treading the fine line between convincingly playing old and caricature. In fact, neither resorted to caricature and this was the least hackneyed performance of Filipyevna that I have ever seen.
William Kerley’s production was generally traditional, which surely helped the singers to portray their characters. Tom Rogers’s set consisted simply of a series of flexible wooden screens with window and doors. Only in Prince Gremin’s palace did you regret the lack of a bigger production budget.
Madame Larina’s party was a triumph of stage work for director, singers and hard working chorus. On the Peacock’s small-ish stage, it really felt like a dance in a provincial house. I was less convinced by his staging of the duel; set in a barn the actual dual took place outside, beyond our field of vision, which was rather strange.
Another oddity, albeit a more understandable one, was that the opening polonaise of Act 3 was played as an entracte; we saw no dancing at Prince Gremin's which made his party an altogether sub-fusc affair.
When we get to Act 3, things get trickier for young singers. Time has passed, the characters are older and wiser. Director and Designer helped Broderick by replacing her rather unflattering earlier costumes with a fine, soignée dress which made you realise that the singer did actually have an attractively generous figure. Broderick combined this with a nobleness of bearing which caught Tatiana’s change of circumstance just right. Von Bergen, as Onegin, seemed to have matured less than Tatiana which is perfectly as it should be. Their final scene together was dramatically moving and very impressive, even if they did not quite wring every ounce of tragedy from the score.
As Prince Gremin, Vuyani Mlinde confirmed the good impression that he made at Grange Park Opera this year. He sang his solo with moving dignity and with a fine sense of line.
Conductor Peter Robinson kept everything moving in an admirable manner. The Southbank Sinfonia played well and successfully disguised the fact that they were probably rather too small in number to be ideal.
The opera was sung in David Lloyd-Jones’s English translation. Diction from all the singers (both native and non-native English speakers) was excellent which help to make the evening one of compelling drama as well as fine musicality.
The theatre seemed to be full of supporters of both the opera company and the singers. Unfortunately the audience was distinctly restless at times. That the management allowed people into the auditorium late meant that the opening of each act was accompanied by a sussuration of noise, and people round me tended to talk during the entractes. All very annoying, it was a good job the performance itself was so absorbing.
Friday, 15 September 2006
I wish I could recommend this disc more. An interesting concept, but
frankly not a disc that I could listen to regularly. ...
Thursday, 14 September 2006
In the spare bits of time (!) various composers and librettists got together to create 2 scratch operas based on brief scenarios. Everyone writing 1 short scene. The results were sung at the end of the evening, the musicians and singers managing to brilliantly incarnate their roles based on minimal rehearsal and using sketchy photocopies of scrawled manuscript. It made an exciting and fun end to a profitable (and entertaining evening).
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
Monday, 11 September 2006
It comes as some sort of relief to discover that these problems were not caused by stage fright or some such thing (as was rumoured), but physical illness; severe enough for her to have to stop talking at one point. Though she rebuilt her voice, things were never the same again but she has put her knowledge to good use and is a teacher.
Tuesday, 5 September 2006
On Friday week we're off to British Youth Opera who are doing a short season of operas at the Peacock Theatre. We're seeing Eugene Onegin. Then on Saturday 16th September we're dashing down to Hampshire to see Pimlico Opera at Grange Park. Its the start of Pimlico's annual autumn tour when they take one of the Grange Park Opera productions on a tour of small scale venues. This time its The Barber of Seville; Ptolomy Christie's production debuted at Grange Park's offshoot at Nevill Holt in the Summer. It will be strange to be at Northington Grange out of season, but we are looking forward to the production immensely.
Then further into September comes the Royal Opera's concert performances of Halevy's La Juive at the Barbican (can't wait!). Plus Canon Vincent Berry's final service at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, where I sing at the Latin Mass, when we will be singing my motet Exaudi which I wrote for the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of Canon Berry's ordination.
Incidentally, if you want to hear the closest we'll ever get to the definitive score of Carmen then try the Chandos Opera in English recording. This uses a new edition by Richard Langham-Smith which is based on the vocal score which he had published after the world premiere. This is the only published score which Bizet himself edited and it was produced under his impetus rather than in association with the Opera Comique, so there is not reason to believe it does not represent the score as he intended.
Monday, 4 September 2006
The consort sang the lovely Venite from Orlando Gibbons's Short Service. The Te Deum and Jubilate were more contemporary; Britten's Festival Te Deum and Walton's Jubilate. The Britten was interesting, it eschewed the usual bombast that I associate with festal settings of this text; there were some good solos from the Nave choir. The Walton was given a brilliant, rhythmically exciting performance by the Nave choir. The consort sang Gibbons's I am the resurrection and the life, a beautiful setting of the Gospel reading for the day.
For me, the highlight of the week was the music at the Friday evening Solemn Eucharist. Throughout the week, by getting to the church early (to get good seats) we had overheard Robert Quinney rehearsing the Nave choir, so we had a good working knowledge of Friday's music by the time the service came along. The mass setting was the James MacMillan mass, written for Westminster Cathedral. The Nave choir sang the Kyrie, Alleluia and Agnus Dei. Both the piece and the performance were stunning; its a very tricky work and I can't wait to hear it in Westminster Cathedral. The Consort kept the contemporary theme by singing Tippett's Plebs Angelica, another stunning performance. The Organ prelude was MacMillan's Gaudeamus in loci paci and the Voluntary was Durufle's Fugue sur le nom d'Alain, one of my favourite organ pieces. All in all a profoundly moving service.
Saturday, 2 September 2006
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.