Wednesday, 22 August 2007

From this month's Opera Magazine

Rather late, I'm afraid, come my gleanings from the August edition of Opera.

The main interview is with Nina Stemme. An attractive Swede who has been making a name for herself as Isolde, I was very surprised to find that she is already in her early 40's; she was 30 when she launched herself professionally. This is becoming increasingly rare and but is very necessary to vocal health, particularly if the bigger roles are in sight. Another welcome piece of Stemme's make-up is that fact that she recognises that that, currently, Isolde is her physical limit and she limits her appearances in that role to one per year. She has recently sung Maguerite in Faust, with considerable success, so she is not limited to Wagnerian roles and seems to preserve an admirable suppleness of vocal line. I have only heard her live once, as Amelia in the Covent Garden Un Ballo in Maschera and would love to hear her in a more sympathetic production.

A diva from another generation, Galina Vishnevskaya, appears in Alexander Sokurov's latest film Alexandra about a grandmother making her way on train and on foot, pulling a shopping cart, to the Russian army camp where her grandson is stationed on the Chechen front. Always a dramatic presence on stage, I look forward to seeing her on film.

One sad loss, the bass John Connell and he was only 50. I remember hearing Connell at ENO and at Opera North. He was one of those people who disappeared and whom one hoped were actively engaged somewhere else. Sadly not the case here.

There is a major article reviewing Peter Gelb's first year at the Met. One interesting point, which also struck me when I was last there (for Les Troyens) is that in recent years the feeling of the theatre was that it was for a small group of high-level patrons. That us plebs were not seen as part of the essential fabric of the theatre going.

Evidently the much revered Rudoph Bing used to ride the subway to work and chat to the audience during the interval, thus providing his rather autocratic administrative style with a more humane public face.

The issue of Meyerbeer's reputation continues to rumble, now in the letter pages where Jennifer Jackson makes some very apposite points. L'Africaine is schedules in Gelsenkirchen for April 2008, let us hope this is followed by some higher profile opera houses as well.

Nigel Osborne's most recent opera received its first performances in Mostar (Bosnia and Hercegovina). It will be travelling to the UK, but Osborne is admirably putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to making a difference with music-making.

La Fille du Regiment crops up in Brazil, with the dialogue in Portugese. The only French person in the cast, Jacqueline Laurence, played the Duchess of Krakentorp. She spoke only French, thus highlighting the character's aristocratic arrogance - rather a neat device I think. And in Chile they have been celebrating the 150th anniversary of one of the oldest theatres in the Americals, the Theatro Municipal in Santiago.

And over in Toronto, Eva Podles took on the mantle of Klytemnestra for the first time. Podles is a sing whom I admire, even though I've never seen her live. Joseph K. So was impressed and so perhaps, one day, I'll get the chance to hear for myself.

According to Joel Kasow, in his review of Les Pecheurs des Perles from Avignon, the opera is not often done in France. Strange, because in the UK it went through a period of being ubiquitous. And Rodney Milnes, reviewing the new Carmen from the Chatelet, said it was only the 2nd time in 50 years that he'd heard a French mezzo-soprano in the title role! The performance, conducted by Mark Minkowski, was described by Milnes as surprisingly Teutonic and he didn't like the production much either. Will ENO and Sally Potter manage to do better in the Autumn, we'll have to wait and see.

Luc Bondy's staging of Handel's Hercules, which I missed when it came to the Barbican, has made its way to Amsterdam. Michael Davidson liked the production about as much as my friends who did see it (i.e. not a lot).

The reviews of the new Aida from Houston, designed by Zandra Rhodes, don't make me regret my decision to not buy tickets for ENO forthcoming version of the production. I still find the costumes and general look of the piece ugly and unsympathetic to the singers though I must admit this is made purely on the basis of photographs in magazines - hardly a reliable guide I admit.

In New York, Riccardo Muti made the patrons at the New York Philharmonic concerts sit up by scheduling Paul Hindemith's Sancta Susana. How about doing this in a double bill with Suor Angelica - from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Over in the UK, Music Theatre Wales's production of Boesman's Miss Julie was the first staging of any of his work in the UK - surely an omission indeed.

Hugh Canning's review of The Magic Flute from Grange Park made me think that he'd been at a different opera to us. The performance we heard wasn't perfect, but the faults that I perceived and those described in Canning's review seemed to be almost complementary. The delights of reviewing. But George Hall's review of The Gambler from the same company, did describe substantially the same production as we saw.

Andrew Porter's review of Capriccio from the Guildhall makes the interesting comment that he is old enough to have attended Mme de Noailles's salon - which was evoked in the John Cox productions of the opera at Glyndebourne and at La Monnaie. Incidentally I saw both of these and found the Brussells version quite, quite stunning (with Felicity Lott as the Countess). Porter is unhappy that the Guildhall performed the opera in French, with a polyglot cast. But I'm not sure that hearing it in badly accented English would be any better. I've heard that in other student operas and its not pretty.

An interesting quote from Patrick O'Connor relating to the Aldeburgh Death in Venice. Those who like to claim that this is not an opera about frustrated sexuality have not altogether grasped the implications that there are from the very first phrases, as Aschenbach first beholds the Traveller loitering in the cemetery near the English Gardens in Munich. Quite so. Perhaps something of this frustrated sexual tension might not have gone amiss in the ENO production.

Michael Kennedy complains about Ivor Bolton's sluggish tempi in Don Giovanni: With sluggish tempos from the conductor Ivor Bolton, I sometimes found myself sighing for the brevity of Gödämmerung..

And Primaveria did Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate at the Finborough Theatre. And I missed it!!!! Andrew Porter was highly complimentary about the straightforward production, perhaps they can find the money to revive it just for me.

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