Tuesday 3 April 2007

From this month's Opera

Gleanings from the April edition of Opera magazine.

More on the European Opera Day’s conference in Paris. One of the centre pieces was Pierre Audi’s new production of Halevy’s La Juive at the Paris Opera Bastille. But its first night was blighted by a technician’s strike. Bizarrely, Audi only found out about the problems via a Dutch language newspaper and no announcement was made on the night; so the audience was left with a rather dim lighting plot and no explanation.

The conference itself sounds a little mixed. Erica Jeal comments that in the session on attracting young adults to opera, ‘half the talking was done by music professionals anxious to talk up their own initiatives’. There was also a young delegates only session which mulled over similar problems. In Europe there is a popular group, Juvenilia, which acts as a young opera goers social network. Oddly, it does not seem to be thriving in the UK.

Potentially, the most interesting session must have been The Future of Opera. It is heartening to read Jeal’s comment that the session "brought a few speakers into play who had done their homework but didn’t seem to be concerned above all with making the right impression".

And in another session Stefan Herheim, actually spoke up for the positive stimuli that an opera house’s inherent limitations brings to the director.

Elsewhere in the magazine, the interview is with veteran singer Robert Tear. In the late 1970’s I saw him in one or two roles with Scottish Opera in repertoire with which he is not always associated. I don’t think I saw his Alfredo but I definitely did see him as Belmonte and I think there were other roles, a Tamino I think. I must did out the programmes. I definitely did see him as Loge in the first Gotz Friedrich Ring at Covent Garden in the 1980’s, a production which made a very big impression.

Tear has always been one of those singers who I’ve admired for their versatility. The interview mentions his recording Handel’s Acis and Galatea whilst singing Matteo (Arabella) at Covent Garden as well as singing the Verdi Requiem for Bernstein at short notice. He’s going to be doing Monsieur Taupe (Capriccio) in Paris; he describes it as a lovely role. I remember hearing the very (very) aged Hugues Cuenod doing it at Glyndebourne (in the old theatre).

Some tit-bits:-

Many papers and mags have picked up on the fact that Gerard Mortier is going to New York City Opera. Despite much speculation about what might happen, all we can really do is say watch this space.

Fragments of recording of the Dream of Gerontius, made in 1936 with Heddle Nash in the title role, have surfaced on a CD which accompanies Alan Blyth’s new book on Nash – can’t wait!

A clutch of obituaries – Gian Carlo Menotti (aged 95) and Steven Pimlott (aged 55). I remember Pimlott’s memorable Boheme for ENO as well as his Sunday in the Park with George for the National Theatre.

Opera around the world:-

Australia’s Pinchgut Opera are a group that I know about from reading reviews and listening to their CD’s. Usually they do something baroque and supremely unusually interesting; this year’s Idomeneo does not seem to have quite hit the mark, judging by Deborah Jones’s review but in December this year they come back with Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans.

Lyons saw a concert performance of La Sonnambula, using a new critical edition; like many back-basics editions of traditional coloratura works, the keys have changed. There are arguments for doing Lucia in higher keys so that the role is more spinto (lowering the pitch enables more high notes from the soprano), but the new Sonnambula is doing the reverse and lowering some of the pitch. At least it makes the tenor’s job easier.

Handel’s Orlando has surfaced in Munich in a production by David Alden. Munich has had a wonderful succession of Handel operas in recent years, but I’ve usually been put off travelling to them by their rather challenging productions. For Orlando, Alden depicts Zoroastro as a mad nuclear scientist with Orlando as his love-lorn sidekick. But seems to leave the more bucolic characters, Dorinda and Medoro, rather out of place. David Daniels sang Orlando, which Hugh Canning thought lay a little low for him. I do wish casting directors would pay attention to the differing castrato and counter-tenor tessituras. Orlando was written for Senesino who had a pretty low register and is definitely not ideal for everyone – Alice Coote found it a bit low for her at Covent Garden. Evidently Daniels had to resort to using his natural baritone register.

Over in Ireland, Opera Ireland have been emulating the work of Pimlico Opera. They did not actually stage their new Boheme in a prison, but the inmates of Mountjoy Prison in Dublin collaborated with Maiano Prison, Spoleto, in designing and building the sets and making the costumes. The result was described by Ian Fox as ‘realistic and dramatically intelligent’.

Geneva’s new Meistersinger set the work in the 1930’s and ended with Pogner and his non-Aryan looking daughter leaving Nuremberg – an interesting take on a problematic ending.

In Los Angeles, tenors seem to be taking over. Kurt Streit played Nerone in Monteverdi’s Poppea – surely they could have found a soprano to do it. And Graham Clark played the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

Rossini’s Il Signor Bruschino was revived in Manhatten; when last played there, at the Met in 1932, it formed a double bill with Elektra – very bizarre. It reminds me of Andre Previn’s story about being taken to the theatre as a child and seeing a double bill of Salome and the ballet Coppelia, and for ever afterwards he tended to get the 2 works mixed up!

In the UK, Carl Rosa did a single performance of Patience in an original 1879 theatre. Its in Teddington and used to be part of a sanotorium and comes complete with the original painted backdrops and the original portraits used for Ruddigore. Sounds like a gem, hope their fund-raising campaign goes well. More information here - http://www.langdondowncentre.org.uk/

In Leeds, Martin Dreyer’s review of Christopher Alden’s new Orfeo seems to miss out the essential point that Alden tried to set the work in Warhol's Factory. Mind you, why he should want to I don’t know.

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