Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Gleanings from this month's Opera magazine

This month's interview is with Danielle de Niese, who is singing Poppea at Glyndebourne this summer. I will be missing her Poppea and have always been rather prejudiced because I first saw her as Cleopatra in the amazing dancing Glyndebourn Julius Caesar, which I hated. It looks as if I'm going to have to wait until her Covent Garden debut as Galatea to make a more reasoned assessment.

On the letters page, one correspondant takes Caballe to task for mixing rock and pop when she sang with Freddy Mercury. It should be pointed out that the collaboration was Mercury's idea and that he wrote songs for her, she wasn't singing operatic versions of existing pop/rock but specially written material.

Richard Osborne's profile of Karajan (its his centenary year, which makes me feel old), throws up some interesting trivia. In Ulm, where Karajan spent 5 years in the 30's, the theatre commissar worked for the electricity board. And contrary to popular opinion, the Great Herbert wasn't a Nazi party member, in fact he didn't even register with the Reichsmusikkammer.

Osborne refers to a scamipish side to Karajan, a word Strauss evidently used when he found him conducting Elektra from memory! On an even more irreverent note, Walter Legge referred to the Salzburg Easter Festival as Heilige Herbert's wonderful Easter egg. In 1940, having heard the wife of the leader of the orchestra at Aachen opera house sing after supper, he invited her at the last minute to fill in as a flower maiden. She agreed, for the hell of it. Some months later he asked her to sing Alice Ford and Octavian, despite having said nothing about the Flower maiden performance. The soprano's name was Elisabeth Grummer!

So Rolando Villazon is back on the operatic scene, returning to the Vienna Staatsoper in Manon. Surprisingly he has little between his Vienna Manons and the Covent Garden Don Carlo. Despite this care, you do wonder whether Don Carlo is rather too heavy a role for him, even in the 5-Act Italian version.

Over in Prague, they are unearthing French rarities, the latest being Saint-Saens's Helene, which was written for Melba. Still on the rare French opera Front, the Chatelet in Paris have just done Roussel's Padmavati, where the star of the show seems to have been the live elephant. Roussel actually spent time in India so his Eastern exoticism is far more genuine than many. Over in the Garnier, Toby Spence was Tom Rakewell, it sounds as if we are going to have to wait for him to do it in London but I look forward to the event immensely. The divine Hilary Summers was Mother Goose in the same production, clad as a dominatrix! Another tenor I admire, Coline Lee was singing the title role in Le Comte Ory in Athens, not much chance of popping over to see that.

In Barcelona, Eva Marton was doing her first Klytemnestra, quite a daring move for a soprano even an ageing dramatic soprano. But Edita Gruberova shows no sign of going down, 40 years after her stage debut she was still wowing the Liceu with her Lucrezia Borgia

Handel's Teseo came in for a bit of over-working at the Komische Oper in Berlin. I can't say that I yearned to see the production, but having a baritone sing Egeo at counter-tenor pitch sounds pretty daring. Still it's not just Handel that producers feel the need to gee up. In Houston Die Entfuhring seems to have come with a deal of comic business, puzzling really.

Still Martin Bernheimer described the new Met production of Peter Grimes as an enlightened fusion of music and drama, so all is not bad on planet opera. A propo of nothing - surprisingly the Met has not done La Sonnambula since 1972.

Back in London, Andrew Porter's review of Vivaldi's Tito Manlio made me wonder whether we'd been at the same opera, surprising how the same performance can take different people so differently. Though Margaret Davies's review of The Bohemian Girl in Haslemere made me pleased that we'd not made the effort to go and see it. So that's still an opera on the to be seen list (along with Ivanhoe and Le Roi Arthus and most of Meyerbeer's French oeuvre)

The review of the reconstruction of Gilbert and Sullivan's Thespis or the God's Grown Old did make me wonder whether Bliss and Priestly knew of the plot when they planned The Olympians (another one on the to be seen list).

In his review of La vie parisienne at the Guildhall, Andrew Porter mentions with approbation a performance at the Coliseum in 1977 with Lois McDonall and Eric Shilling - I was there, I remember it!

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