Tuesday 25 July 2006

This month's Opera magazine

Some gleanings for this month's opera magazine:-

Charles Osborne's article on George Bernard Shaw's music reviewing has some rather nice one-liners. My favourite was:-

Miss Nordica turned Elsa of Brabant into Elsa of Bond Street by appearing in a corset.

But it is also interesting where Osborne compares Shaw's comments on singers to their recorded legacy. But other singers did not leave a record to compare to Shaw's criticism. So we are left wondering whether Ilma de Murska's voice 'was not unjustly compared to an old tin kettle' or Tamberlik has 'certain traditional phrasings which the old fashioned training used to knock into singers, usually knocking the voice out of them at the same time.

There was some discussion in the letter pages about interval length. We have noticed that the intervals at Covent Garden seem to have got longer since the rebuild.
I rather agree with the correspondents who would prefer the minimum of intervals. Given the cost of the catering at Covent Garden, I don't see why we should feel confined to the theatre for interminable intervals when there is no need.

Another subject of correspondence is the use of Sign Language interpreters simultaneously with sur-titles. Wendy Ebsworth, who signs for ENO and Covent Garden
makes the valid point that at Sign Language interpreter tries to include far more information than simply summarising the text, they also try to include info relating to more subjective things. A rather interesting point. Its easy for those of us that hear to dismiss the subject of signing, I'd like to hear from someone who actually uses the signing information to find out their views.

In Paris, the Opera-Comique cast Laurence Janot as the heroinhe in their new production of Oscar Straus's Drei Walzer/Les Trois Valses.
She seems to be quite a find, because she started out life as a ballerina before going on to become a soprano. Now that sounds like a brilliant combination for a lot of modern stagings.

And in Cologne, they've just done the Ring in 2 days, complete! The first 2 operas on the first day and the 2nd 2 operas on the next day. Sounds like a rather intense experience. I've always rather fancied the opposite, spreading the longer operas over multiple days with lots of dinner intervals. Rather than starting Götterdammerung at 4.30pm, why not start it at 2.00pm.

At Karlsruhe they gave the first European staging of Handel's Lotario, 277 years after its premiere! And in Mannheim, the opera are reviving a number of operas which lead to Gluck's reform opera. We tend to remember, just, Gluck and Calzabagi's reform operas but conveniently forget that other, lesser, masters did experiments which lead to that goal. The latest to be staged is Traetta's Sofonisba,
complete with the heroine's suicide on stage. Interestingly, the Mannheim stage also saw the premiere of Schiller's play, Die Räuber, which was the basis for Verdi's I Masnadieri.

Houston have done a new production of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Whilst I can understand that to do this opera on a large scale stage requires some compromise, I feel that in this day and age replacing Nerone by a tenor (rather than a mezzo-soprano) is completely unforgivable. Is sends out all the wrong signals, saying that the look of the piece with a male protagonist is more important than the composer's musical lines. Its one of my betes noire, this use of tenors in roles like Nerone. I have seen a number of truly impressive productions with either a mezzo or a counter-tenor in the role of Nerone, so I see no need to re-write
Monteverdi unnecessarily.

Rodney Milnes's review of Thais at Grange Park Opera is one of those occasions when you wonder whether we were at the same performance. It is fascinating how some productions seem to bring out contrasting points of view in critics, whereas others get them all agreeing. Mind you, there have been occasions where all the print critics seem to have agreed and I have found myself in a minority of 1 (well 2 actually, as my partner and I usually seem to agree on our general view of a production).

Michael Kenndy's review of Show Boat at the Albert Hall is the sort of review which makes me long to have seen the production. I'm no great lover of opera in the round, but I think that we'll be booking for Showboat if they do it again (they must!) at the Albert Hall.

In the CD reviews there is a review of an opera by Gossec, someone I've heard of, but whose music is not familiar to me. Amazingly, he was a protege of Rameau AND was on the panel that failed to give the Prix de Rome to Berlioz in 1826, how's that for longevity.

On the back page Peter Alward remembers Rita Hunter in exactly the same way that I remember her. Interestingly he notes that whilst her voice was not over-large it had a focus which meant that her tone could be heard over the heaviest of orchestrations. One of my abiding memories of her is the wonderful gleaming quality of her voice. She is still sorely missed and it is difficult to see that any particular singer nowadays can sing the repertoire with the same sense of line and lack of struggle.

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