Monday 3 September 2007

From this Month's opera

An illuminating interview with James MacMillan, regarding the creation of his new opera The Sacrifice. Evidently he and his librettist, Michael Symmons Roberts, went through a long process of trying to work out what the opera should be. MacMillan admits to admiring Peter Grimes but finding the work leaves him a little cold; an attitude that I can sympathise with. An interesting quote: 'There's an aestheric in modern music that tries to avoid drama because it cane be seen as emotion, which is to be avoided at all costs, so composers uses statuesque presentations and aim for detatched objectivity. That path doesn't interest us:'. Quite So.

A variety of people write tributes to Regine Crespin. The most interesting, from my point of view, was that of Anna Caterina Antonacci because she became friendly with Crespin and had long conversations with her about her various roles.

I saw Crespin as the Old Prioress in The Carmelites at Covent Garden. This performance was in English and evidently she sang the role more frequently in English than in French!

Further news on Nina Stemme's progress. She is singing the Valkyrie Brunhilde in Houston in 2010 with a complete cycle the following year. This is in line with the softly, softly approach she seems to have taken to her career; she'll be in her late 40's by the time she does the complete cycle, which seems eminently sensible.

Another dramatic soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, seems to be making a name for herself. John Allison's review of her performance in Tristan in Santiago, Chile, refers to gleaming power across big phrases and rock steady tuning.. Sounds very promising.

And still with Wagner, Willard White's Wotan in Aix was commended by Shirley Apthorp for his superb diction. Something that was evidently infectious as Apthorp commented that she'd rarely heard so much of Wagner's text. I remember a similar occasion when hearing Valerie Masterson doing the Marschallin at ENO; her diction was superb and you heard virtually every word of the Act 1 monologue.

Another follow up, this time to the suggestion of doing a mid-life crisis Cosi fan tutte; Figaro Opera are staging the work in Cambridge with singers of a certain age.

The new director of the Monnaie in Brussels, has put together a season which eschews reliance on Verdi and Puccini, to give audiences a chance to explore the wider repertoire. The concert performances include such fascinatingly neglected works like Euryanthe and Elisabette, regina d'Inghilterra. It sounds a risky business, but I wish more opera houses were as free-thinking. The Monnaie also have a new Musical Director, Mark Wrigglesworth; sounds like they have an interesting future planned, I hope it works financially.

Over in Denmark, the Royal Danish Opera performed Lucia di Lammermoor for the first time since 1866! And in Ghent, Rita Gorr has given her final performance (as the Countess in the Queen of Spades), the conclusion of a career spanning some 58 years.

In Paris, at the Bastille, there was a new Traviata with Violetta as Edith Piaf - what will they think of next.

In Berlin, the Deutsche Oper went for something a little more arcane, Zemlinsky's Der Traumgörge. I have a disc of this and it sounds fabulous. Let us hope that this new production gives rise to some others in Europe. Alas, in Hamburg they seem to have staged Handel's Radamisto as a comedy. Why bother if you don't like the work. In Munich, they staged a new version of Alice in Wonderland with music by Unsuk Chin. For me, the most interesting aspect of the performance was the presence of Gwyneth Jones as the Queen of Hearts.

Robert Carsen's new (ish) production of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride made an appearance in San Francisco, before coming to rest in London this Autumn. Allan Ulrich comments about the playing down of the homo-erotic aspects of the relationship between Oreste and Pylade; something that has cropped up in a number of recent productions I think.

Oh dear, Erica Jeal describes the Glyndebourne Matthew Passion as one of the dreariest productions of the work we are likely to see. Having seen the production, I sympathise entirely. But the Chelsea Opera Group's performance of The Fair Maid of Perth, a concert which I missed, seems to have persuaded Margaret Davies that the work is worth staging.

Rodney Milnes describes Maria Friedman (as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd at the South Bank Centre) as getting every word across even when competing with three trombones and a pair of trumpets. Would that more singers could do so.

The Paddock, in Lewes, staged Orlando Gough's The Finnish Prisoner, an opera about the imprisonment of a group of Finns in Lewes in the 19th century. The libretto was written by Stphen Plaice who also wrote the words for Glyndebourne's most recent community opera. This latter toured to Finland and ended up with a group of Finnish singers performing the Paddock's operatic premiere, singing the Finnish POW's. Quite a coup. The production is going to Finland in 2009, shame it does not as yet seem to have another life in the UK.

Elizabeth Schafer has produced a new biography of Lilian Bayliss, it sounds essential reading for anyone interesting in opera in England.

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