Monday 2 November 2020

A Life On-Line: Lawrence Brownlee & friends in Philadelphia, Diana Damrau & Joseph Calleja in Caserta, Goldberg Variations in Brecon

Beethoven: Fidelio - Toby Spence - Garsington Opera
Beethoven: Fidelio - Toby Spence - Garsington Opera

Like many opera companies, Opera Philadelphia has started its 2020/21 season on-line and the opening event was Lawrence Brownlee and Friends in Philadelphia when the tenor was joined by sopranos Lindsey Reynolds, Karen Slack and Sarah Shafer and pianist Myra Huang. The format was one that Brownlee has done with other companies, he chats to the singers, and they perform a selection of arias, song, spirituals and lighter items. The three sopranos all had links to Philadelphia, Sarah Shafer has performed with the company, Lindsey Reynolds is currently studying the Curtis Institute and Karen Slack is Philadelphia native. The repertoire was engagingly varied, and certainly moved away from the 'popular arias' type of programme. 

Shafer gave an impressive, quite operatic performance of the 'Laudamus te' from Mozart's Mass in C minor, then an ardent account of one of Amy Beach's Three Browning Songs. Reynolds made a vibrant and delightfully engaging Manon in 'Je suis encore' from Massenet's opera (certainly making you keen to see her in the full role), following it with a passionate version of Nadia Boulanger's song La mer est plus belle.  Slack sang Salome's aria 'Il est doux' from Massenet's Herodiade with wonderfully rich tone and flexible line, and gave a powerful account of Alma Mahler's Die stille Stadt.  Brownlee started with 'Allegro io son' from Donizetti's Rita; despite the curious plot, about wife-beating, this was light-hearted coloratura, then followed it up with Clara Schumann's lovely song Liebest du um Schoenheit sung with an impressive combination of clarity of word and beauty of line. A group of spirituals followed, then a group of lighter numbers including songs by Victor Herbert, George Gershwin, Irvin Berlin and Isham Jones' It had to be you. [Opera Philadelhia]

The latest in the Met Stars Live was an altogether grander affair.

Soprano Diana Damrau and tenor Joseph Calleja were accompanied by pianist Roberto Moreschi in a performance which came live from the Cappella Palatina of the Royal Palace of Caserta near Naples. A very suitable setting for a scene from Act One of Puccini's Tosca, though hearing the opera with just piano accompaniment made you realise quite how much weight is carried by Puccini's orchestration. Damrau is nowhere near a spinto soprano and I doubt whether Tosca is a role that she would ever sing at the Met, but here she made a delightful, lighter-style Tosca interacting well with Calleja's passionate Cavaradossi. Of course, we got his Act Three aria, and a finely crafted account of 'Vissi d'arte' from Damrau where she took full advantage of the lightness of the piano accompaniment. 

They continued with a sparkling duet from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore with Calleja proving surprisingly adept at moving his large voice round the coloratura whilst Damrau displayed real sparky personality. Calleja was on more familiar territory with an aria from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera, sung with power and a strong sense of line, whilst Damrau was impressive and very joyous in 'Bel raggio lusinghier' from Rossini's Semiramide.  With two such contrasting voices, selecting duets was a challenge so Bizet's Carmen was perhaps inevitable with Calleja giving us a passionate account of La Fleur que tu m'avais jetee' and then both singers joining together for Micaela and Don Jose's Act One duet. We finished with lighter items, Damrau having great fun in an aria from Kalman's Countess Maritza, Calleja in De Lara's Granada, and then two songs arranged as duets, Non ti scordar di me and Gounod's Ave Maria. [Metropolitan Opera]

The Dance Continues from Positive Note's Autumn Session (a programme of filmed recitals) featured Roderick Williams, Anna Dennis, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Wilfred Norman, and Daniel Norman accompanied by Sholto Kynoch in a programme about birds and trees filmed at Radley College. We opened with Cornysh's lovely Ah, Robin sung by the three upper voices, and then followed a beautiful sequence of songs about trees by Butterworth, Rachmaninov, Rebecca Clarke, Britten, Mahler and Schubert. And I have to confess that I had not come across Rebecca Clarke's The Cherry Blossom Wand before (beautifully sung by Marta Fontanals-Simmons) and it made me want to look for more Clarke songs. This section ended with a group performance of Erlkönig, not in Schubert's setting but in that of Carl Loewe. With each singer playing a different character, the drama in Loewe's song really came over, highlighted by Jeremy Hamway Bidgood's imaginative animations. 

A sequence of songs about birds moved us from Howells, RVW, Britten and Finzi, to Schumann, to Alban Berg and Judith Weir. Daniel Norman's son Wilfred (a scholar at Radley) joined the group to sing alto in ensemble performances of Orlando Gibbons' madrigal The Silver Swan and Stanford's The Blue Bird [Positive Note]

Chad Kelly's new orchestration of Bach's Goldberg Variations was premiered on-line by Rachel Podger (violin) and members of Brecon Baroque. Recorded in Brecon Cathedral, the performance was part this year's on-line Brecon Baroque Festival. Kelly's orchestration was done as a sort of deliberate retort to the modern tendency to view the Goldberg Variations as a purely keyboard work, but he also aimed to create an arrangement which was written idiomatically for his chosen set of instruments. The result certainly utilised the timbres and colours available with two violins, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord, particularly in such an appealingly engaging and vibrant performance as this. The on-line festival includes an introduction to the work and a programme about the making of the film, so that you can really explore the project on-line. [Brecon Baroque

I missed Garsington Opera's performances of Beethoven's Fidelio when they were given live in September, and now the production is on-line at OperaVision.  Semi-staged by Peter Mumford, the big advantage of the production was that there were no music stands. The opera was given without any dialogue, but with linking passages of text projected. Here I have to confess that I miss the dialogue, and feel that great arias work better if given a bit of spoken context. But the performance featured terrific role debuts from Katherine Broderick as Leonore and Toby Spence as Florestan, and Douglas Boyd drew a strong account of the score from his reduced orchestral players (from the Philharmonia), so much so that I did not miss the lack of extra weight and loved the clarity Boyd brought to the score [OperaVision]

Sunday 25 October was World Opera Day with contributions all over the inter-web. English National Opera's was a clip from its recent performance of Puccini's La Boheme, with Natalya Romaniw as Mimi. The sort of performance that made you want the clip to continue! [YouTube]. Pegasus Opera presented its Legacy and Hope Concert which featured a fine array of singers from it's 2020 mentoring programme [Pegasus Opera]. Welsh National Opera produced a film of Poulenc's La voix humaine with soprano Claire Booth and pianist Christopher Glynn, directed by David Pountney, creating the perfect image of the intensity of opera in isolation [Welsh National Opera] English Touring Opera has launched Shh! We have a plan a delightful on-line puppet-based opera by Noah Mosley based on the stories by Chris Haughton [ETO]

Pianist Vincent Larderet has just released a two-disc set of the music by Liszt on Piano Classics and in a new interview he talks about his relationship to Liszt and the new set [YouTube]

The advantage of on-line listening is that we can eavesdrop on performances from all over the world. The Unity Chamber Music Series takes place at Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Illinois, and its first concert (on 7/11/2020) will feature the Avalon String Quartet in Beethoven and Florence Price [Unity Chamber Music Series] Michel Ocelot's lovely little film Pablo Paris Satie featured Paris Opera Ballet star Pablo Legasa performing to Eric Satie against the Paris skyline [Opera de Paris]

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields' re:connect series continued with a programme which moved from Jean Fery Rebel to Mozart, to Copland to Samantha Fernando, featuring the solo flute of Michael Cox [ASMF]. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's on-line series has also started, and a recent one featured Samuel Barber's  String Quartet (the one with the famous Adagio),  Bernstein's Clarinet Sonata and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Nonet [Scottish Chamber Orchestra]. Whilst the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has launched its OAE Player, which gives you access to a whole variety of specially curated performances both live and specially filmed [OAE Player]

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