Monday 2 October 2006

This month's Opera magazine

Some gleanings for the October issue of Opera magazine.

An interesting preview of Julian Grant's new opera Odysseus Unwound which manages to combine the Odysseus story with Shetland knitting (done live in the theatre!). Tete a tete are taking the opera on on tour.

An amazing array of obituaries; besides appreciations of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf by Christa Ludwig and Alan Blyth, there were obituaries of Charles Farncombe (beloved from Handel Opera Society) and Leopold Simoneau (the Canadian tenor whose recording of the tenor Gluck Orfeus has hardly been beaten).

Richard Fairman, in his review of Die Zauberflote from Salzburg notes that 15 minutes before the end of the performance the curtain came down for a scene change, prompting the doors to open and people to leave, as if they did not know the opera that well!

The Royal Danish Opera have just performed their new Ring in Copenhagen in the new opera house (I can't wait to see it). Evidently Queen Margarethe has attended the whole of the 2nd Ring cycle and parts of the first.

Strasbourg have done Verdi's Don Carlos in the original French (using the Modena version) with at least 2 French speaking principals, Rodney Milnes was impressed.

A production of Barber's Vanessa in the Teatro Massimo in Palermo; strange how many other countries can perform the work be it never gets staged in the UK by a major company.

Huhg Canning reviews the Glyndebourne revival of Giulio Cesare. Musically it sounds to have been superb with David Daniels in the title role. But I think that Canning is far too forgiving of the production. He describes it as essentially tongue in cheek. Would any of the major critics be happy to praise a tongue in cheek production of Mozart's Idomeneo or La Clemenza di Tito. Because opera seria is still perceived as possibly long and boring, critics seem to wink at productions which cheer things up, where they would be up in arms if such things were done on other composers. The problem with David MacVicar's way with Handel (this goes for the ENO Alcina as well) is that he chooses a group of characters to send up, but when these characters suffer we have no empathy with them as we don't see them as real people. This applies to Cleopatra and and to Morgana (in Alcina). I'll continue going to see MacVicar productions (ENO have Agrippina coming up), but only because it seems the only way to hear major companies do Handel. Would someone had the courage to do one of Handel's early opera seria properly seriously.

Opera Rara have just done a concert performance of Rossini's La Donna del Lago at the Edinburgh Festival. Andrew Clark liked it and I can't wait to get the CD, it includes the UK debut of a striking Neapolitan Soprano Carmn Giannattasio.

Everyone seems to agree that Stuart MacRae's new opera, The Assasin Tree was a promising, but not ideal debut. Worryingly, Andrew Clark suggests the work might be better heard as a voiceless symphony, implying that MacRae has yet to get to grips with operatic voices. This is, in fact, a common problem with contemporary operas. Clark describes MacRae's vocal lines as uninteresting, which is rather a fault in an opera.

A fabulous concert performance of Die Meistersinger from Edinburgh, with John Mitchinson (WNO Tristan in the Goodall Tristan), Jeffrey Lawton (Siegfried in WNO Ring), Phillip Joll (WNO Goodall Tristan) and John Shirley Quirk (too many memories to mention!) amongst the Meistersingers (an amazing line up). Plus Toby Spence as David.

Rodney Milnes reviews the Opera Rara Don Carlos a re-issue of the BBC performance of the original Paris version with all cuts opened up. He likes it, but talks about the choices to be made by anyone devising a sensible text. This implies the sort of mix and match attitude that I hate; when doing the opera producer s tend to choose bits from each opera. Surely, if you are doing it you should choose on of Verdi's versions. The 5-Act Modena version, done in French should surely be the prime versio and you should not then introduce bits of Paris into this. The only excuse for using any of the Paris material is if you want to hear the original Paris version. The only decisions that need to be made about Paris are the cuts (surely necessary in an ordinary opera house production). I certainly don't want to hear ensembles from Paris which were subsequently cut by Verdi, re-appearing in the later Modena version.

Rant over! On a lighter note, producer Otto Schenk in addition to producing 30 operatic stagings in Vienna, appeared in the role of Frosch (Die Fledermaus) some 54 times!

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