Sunday 5 July 2020

A Life On-Line: Dreaming of the Silver Screen in Montpellier, Weber's Euryanthe in Vienna, Tippett's The Ice Break in Birmingham,

Weber: Euryanthe Theresa Kronthaler (Eglantine), Andrew Foster-Williams (Lysiart) - Theater an der Wien (Photo © Monika Rittershaus)
Weber: Euryanthe - Theresa Kronthaler (Eglantine), Andrew Foster-Williams (Lysiart)
Theater an der Wien (Photo © Monika Rittershaus)

Opera this week included two rather different rarely performed operas, Weber's grand romantic opera Euryanthe from Vienna, and Tippett's final opera The Ice Break from Birmingham. And we also caught up with Ted Huffman's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream which debuted in Montpellier last year.

First off we caught up with Christof Loy's production of Weber's Euryanthe which was originally given at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, with Jacquelyn Wagner, Norman Rehinhardt, Theresa Kornthaler, Andrew Foster-Williams and Stefan Cerny, and Constantin Trinks conducting the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. Weber's opera is notoriously regarded as unstageable thanks to what is seen as a clunky libretto. I have only seen the opera on stage twice, in Richard Jones' striking production at Glyndebourne, and at the Semper Oper in Dresden in a production by Peter Konwitschny which radically altered the ending.

The big virtue of Christof Loy's production is that the opera was given virtually complete, and without any major adjustments to the plot. But instead of going for naturalism, Loy went for the psychological approach so that the Act III scene with the serpent becomes a reflection of the mental states of Euryanthe and Adolar. It helped that he got visceral performances from his cast and it makes thrilling theatre, and is musically top form as well. The performance is on DVD from Naxos, highly recommended, and my only regret is that the orchestra is modern instrument not period.

One of the more amusing aspects of the DVD is the camera work, the way the framing and tracking aimed to avoid, as much as possible, the fact that Andrew Foster-Williams was bravely and entirely naked for one crucial scene in Act Two. This theme of naked singers popped up on our next opera too, a very different rarity, Michael Tippett's The Ice Break.

Tippett's opera has been regarded just as problematic as Weber's and there have been few stagings since its premiere at the Royal Opera House in 1977. I was lucky enough to see the BBC Proms performance in 1990 conducted by David Atherton when Heather Harper came out of retirement to reprise the role of Nadia.

Graham Vick's 2015 staging with Birmingham Opera Company is currently on Opera Vision. Vick thrillingly links the race upheavals explored in the opera with the 1985 riots in Birmingham, yet altered perceptions of the piece by casting BAME singers in rather more roles than Tippett specified which gets over the problems of the rather schematic nature of Tippett's dramaturgy. The result was a thrilling vindication of the work, though I wonder whether it will ever work in the opera house; the piece seemed designed for this sort of immersive, filmic production. Vick received a committed and thrilling performance from Nadine Benjamin, Ross Ramgobin (the other naked singer this week), Stephanie Corley, Chrystal Williams, Ta'u Pupu'a, John Colyn Gyeantey, Adam Green, Anna Harvey, and Meili Li with Andrew Gourlay conducting and a remarkable degree of community involvement.

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Montpellier (Photo Mark Ginot)
Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Montpellier (Photo Mark Ginot)
In November 2019 I had a more enjoyable interview with counter-tenor James Hall, one on of the things he mentioned was Ted Huffman's production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream which debuted in Montpellier last year and travelled to the Deutsche Oper, Berlin this January. We caught up with the production from Montpellier on OperaVision. James Hall & Florie Valiquette were Oberon and Tytania, Thomas Atkins, Matthew Durkan, Roxana Constantinescu, Marie-Adeline Henry were the Lovers, Dominic Barberi, Nicholas Crawley,  Paul Curievici, Daniel Grice, Colin Judson and Nicholas Merryweather were the mechanicals with Richard Wiegold and Polly Leech as the Theseus and Hippolyta and the American actor Nicholas Bruder as Puck. Tito Muñoz conducted. Impressively, the cast were not all Anglophone, nor presumably were the boys of the Chœur Opéra Junior - Classe Opéra. Huffman's production was very stylish, with minimal set. The fairies were all in black, white and grey, variations on 1930s formal outfits with a distinct whiff of the silver screen.

Productions of Britten's opera can, in the UK, often seem filtered in some way through Shakespeare's play but this production seemed to come from a different angle and start with the opera itself. Reading Ted Huffman's writings about the production, I could not always tie up his ideas with what I saw, but was an entrancing evening. Surprisingly serious, even the Mechanicals, with a very laid-back, adult Puck from Nicholas Bruder. I do hope that we can catch the production live in Berlin some time.

The Armonico Consort has gone back to live music making behind closed doors, and on Wednesday gave us a fine account of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the lovely Court House in Warwick. [YouTube]

Elsewhere counter-tenor Clint van der Linde recorded Tallis' anthem If ye Love me, singing all four parts including tenor and bass [YouTube] and on Digital Lieder Salon baritone Simon Wallfisch and pianist Edward Rushton dived deep into the song repertoire [Facebook]. The Irish singer Catriona O'Leary (most recently featured on Anakronos' The Red Book of Ossory, see my review) has been exploring the unaccompanied repertoire on her YouTube channel, and in each video she is costumed too; the most recent featured three traditional English and Irish songs [YouTube]

Mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston is looking for people to sponsor a song as part of her Isolation Songbook project where she has been putting together new songs which she will be premiering later this month in association with the City Music Foundation. See Helen's website for details.

Music at the Tower hosted a delightful live, outdoor performance in Crouch End and on Facebook Live, with Nicky Spence, Kitty Whately, Mary Bevan, William Thomas, Dylan Perez, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Gabriella Swallow, and a striking contribution from the weather too! [Facebook], in aid of Help Musicians [Donate link]. And, Song in the City hosted an interesting meet the artist event, catching up with former members of the scheme.

The Opera Story's Episodes series has reached number seven, Cookies, music by Joaquim Badia, with mezzo-soprano Rachael Lloyd [Twitter], whilst horn player Anneke Scott has reached day 103 (!) of her A Chorale a Day, exploring Bach's chorales played on a corno da tirarsi [Instagram].

As part of the #SaveOurTheatres campaign, West End Live Lounge brought together a group of West End stars to sing Queen's The Show Must Go On, and raise money for Mind and for Acting for Others [YouTube].

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