Friday, 30 November 2007

Gleanings from December's Opera magazine

Franz Welser-Möst comments about the health of an opera house; the best indicator being, not the spectacular first nights but the revivals, if you have great Three Ladies in the Magic Flute or good Flower Maidens. And Mike Ashman unearths one of the original Flower Maidens, Carrie Pringle by name, who may even have been Wagner's mistress. One of those people who flit into history and then disappear.

Richard van Allen is one of those singers who seems to have disappeared from our stages. It turns out that he is suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. But his interview in Opera is interesting and illuminating. He trained as a teacher at Worcester Teacher Training College. Amazingly, the music tutor there was Harold Watkins Shaw, the Handel scholar. In his early days he sang with Opera for All. They took the scenery around with them and erected it themselves. Van Allen drove the scenery van because he happened to have a driving licence. Puts the current problems touring operas into perspective rather doesn't it?

Van Allen must be one of the last of the generation of singers who learned their craft without ever being able to read music, (Rita Hunter and Charles Craig were similar). In the early days Van Allen used to rely on a tape recorder weighing 45 pounds, hardly portable.

In Australia, the State Opera of Adelaide presented Un Ballo in Maschera conducted by Baroque specialist Graham Abbott. Sounds as if it might have been a fascinating evening, with the intimate preferred to the bombastic. This also happened at the Caramoor Festival in the USA where Il Trovatore was given in a fascinating Bel Canto version. There Conductor Will Crutchfield gave a very full edition of the score.

And in Sydney, Venus in Tannhäuser looked like Cruella de Vil and was a stern mistress of discipline, whatever turns you on I suppose. Cheryl Barker sang all 3 soprano roles in Il Trittico, quite a feat if you think about it. If she is singing the more dramatic Janacek and Strauss roles, it will be interesting to see whether she can keep her voice lithe enough for Suor Angelica and Lauretta.

John Allison went to Belgium to see the new Hans Werner Henze opera. Someone has described him as the Meyerbeer of our times - discuss! Still, Allison said that the final ecstatic dance sounded like Mahler on Prozac. Judging from the photo, the production itself was very stylish.

And in Canada, the Canadian Opera Company staged their first ever French Don Carlos, amazing as it seems. Though the reviewer then confuses this by saying that the 5-Act Italian version had been given in French in the past. So I'm not really sure what he meant, perhaps he means the original Paris version. Anyhow, the cast seem to have been pretty polyglot.

Marseille have premiered a new opera, Marius et Fanny by Vladimi Cosma based on the Marcel Pagnol tales. I wonder how it compares to Harold Rome's musical based on the same source, which provided Ezio Pinza's first Broadway role after South Pacific.

We saw Yannis Kokkos's production of Cherubini's Medea (Italian version) at the Chatelet in Paris with Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role. The production has made its way to Greece where it was performed in the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, quite a venue. The same opera also showed up in Utrecht, also in the Italian version.

And Peter Maxwell Davies's The Lighthouse has made its way to Italy (to Montepulciano) for only its 2nd production in Italy (the last one was 20 years ago). The performers all had Anglophone names, so this was hardly full cultural assimilation. Over in Spoleto they did Handel's Ariodante with a production inspired by Princess Margaret in the 1950's.

In Boston it was the turn of Lully's Psyche, the operas first American outing. Rather bizarrely, the piece has its origins in a fete belliqueuse for some 30,000 soliders on the nearly built fortifications of Dunkirk. The mind boggles.

At the Met, theatre director Mary Zimmerman directed a new Lucia di Lammermoor and seems to have shown the same distrust of the operatic genre as some of the recent non-opera specialists over here.

Still in New York, Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers made its American debut. Unfortunately they performed it in the traditional English version - Martin Bernheimer comments on the prim Victorian verse and the clumsy libretto. I must confess that I was surprised at this latter comment as I have never found Brewster's libretto clumsy. Granted the English translation is cumbersome, but Smyth always admitted this and it was done in a hurry by a hack. Smyth and Brewster wrote the opera in French, though I don't think it has ever been performed in this version. Duchy Opera commissioned a new translation from Amanda Holden and it is a shame that this was not used.

Back in the UK, veteran composer Stephen Dodgson has had a new opera, Nancy, premiered by St. Albans Chamber Opera. Dodgson is now in his 80's, so there is hope for us all yet.

We hear that... notes that Patricia Bardon will be singing in ENO's new Riders to the Sea in the Autumn. Great news to hear that the opera will be returning to London at last.

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