Saturday, April 29, 2017
The troubled English National Opera announced its next season this morning. Martin Brabbins, the new music director, will conduct two out of nine productions. A fifth new show, Britten’s Turn of the Screw, will be staged in June 2018 at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, a space not renowned for its sound quality. Daniel Kramer, the artistic director, gets to direct La Traviata. The opening production, Aida, will be conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, wife of the Metropolitan Opera boss, Peter Gelb. Official highlights: · ENO’s 2017/18 season features four new productions and five revivals at the London Coliseum, supported by a number of projects in other venues · Daniel Kramer directs his first opera as ENO Artistic Director, a new production of La traviata starring Claudia Boyle in her role debut as Violetta · Martyn Brabbins begins his first full season as ENO Music Director, conducting performances of Marnie and The Marriage of Figaro · ENO presents the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s latest opera, Marnie, directed by Michael Mayer and conducted by Martyn Brabbins · A new production of Verdi’s Aida opens the 17/18 season, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson. After sell-out performances of his Olivier Award-winning Akhnaten, Phelim McDermott returns to direct · Cal McCrystal directs a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, starring ENO Harewood Artist Samantha Price in the title role alongside ENO favourites Andrew Shore and Yvonne Howard · Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and ENO present a new production of The Turn of the Screw, directed by multiple Olivier Award-winner and Artistic Director of the Open Air Theatre, Timothy Sheader. ENO Mackerras Fellow Toby Purser conducts · Revivals of audience favourites include Jonathan Miller’s The Barber of Seville, Richard Jones’s Rodelinda, Phelim McDermott’s Satyagraha, Robert Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Fiona Shaw’s The Marriage of Figaro · A raft of exciting British conductors new to ENO includes Leo McFall, Alexander Soddy and Hilary Griffiths. Keri-Lynn Wilson and Karen Kamensek return after acclaimed debuts in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons respectively · Over 93% of cast and conductors in the 2017/18 season are British born, trained or resident. Rodelinda, Iolanthe and Satyagraha all feature casts that are entirely British born, trained or resident
René Papa as Méphistophélès in Faust, The Royal Opera © ROH/Catherine Ashmore, 2011 Opera’s lowest male voice type is used to explore the best and worst in human nature, from murderous villainy to benign wisdom. Here are some of our favourite examples of bass roles from more than two centuries of opera and what makes them so impressive: Zoroastro – Handel ’s Orlando Zoroastro – whom Handel’s anonymous librettist loosely modelled on the Persian sage Zoroaster – is the voice of reason in this opera of insanity and unruly passions. From his commanding opening aria ‘Lascia amor’ onwards, Zoroastro attempts to persuade the unstable hero Orlando to give up his unreciprocated passion for Angelica and return to deeds of valour. Being a wise magician, he eventually succeeds, and in Act III expresses his joy in one of the most jubilantly virtuoso arias in the bass repertory, ‘Sorge infausta’. Osmin – Mozart ’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail Inspired by Handel, Mozart created his own Zoroaster-inspired sage in Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte /The Magic Flute), whose arias ‘O Isis und Osiris’ and ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ are among opera’s noblest. The bullying harem-keeper Osmin is altogether different: his blustering aria ‘Solche hergelauf’ne Laffen’ and drunken duet ‘Vivat Bacchus!’ (both using ‘Turkish’ percussion), his futile attempts to control the spirited character Blonde and his bravura Act III rondo ‘O, wie will ich triumphieren’ (which is a must-hear due to its use of one of the lowest notes in the bass register) make him one of opera’s greatest comic villains. Méphistophélès – Gounod ’s Faust Méphistophélès’s charm, wit, and chocolate-rich bass voice – shown to best advantage in such episodes as his demure Act I entrance, zestful Act II aria ‘Le veau d’or’ and dapper seduction of Marthe Schwertlein in the Act III quartet – give him a demonic appeal. His underlying viciousness comes to the fore in his sardonic Act IV serenade to Marguerite and in the terrifying Act V trio – but this doesn’t stop us feeling that in Faust the devil has the best tunes! Philip II – Verdi ’s Don Carlo Philip II’s evolution from authoritarian ruler to suffering husband makes him perhaps Don Carlo’s most interesting character. Until the end of Act III we are inclined to dislike Philip for his tyrannical behaviour towards his wife and son. However, in his aria ‘Ella giammai m’amò!’, with its haunting introduction for solo cello, Philip laments his loneliness and his loveless marriage with a dignity, sorrow and resignation that arouse our sympathies, and that the bass voice’s rich, dark timbre makes all the more poignant. Gurnemanz – Wagner ’s Parsifal Wagner uses the sonorous richness of the bass voice to convey the wisdom and benign nature of the veteran Grail Knight Gurnemanz. This part requires tremendous stamina – Gurnemanz is on stage for the whole of the two-hour Act I and 90-minute Act III, and has several lengthy monologues. But the beauty of his music, particularly the sublime ‘Good Friday’ monologue, makes the effort more than worthwhile. Baron Ochs – Richard Strauss ’s Der Rosenkavalier Strauss pulls off a near-impossible feat in his first great comedy, and creates a character who is as appealing as he is comically repellent. Ochs’s loutish entrance in Act I, boorish behaviour towards Sophie in Act II and sleazy seduction scene in Act III make us thoroughly glad when he gets his comeuppance. And yet, his warm bass voice, exuberance and the lilt of his favourite waltz in Act II give him a certain charm. Bluebeard – Bartók ’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle Bartók offers an unconventional reading of the Bluebeard story, presenting Bluebeard not as a murdering psychopath, but as a fiercely private man, who appears to love his new wife Judith but hesitates to reveal his secrets to her. Bluebeard’s mysterious vocal style – predominantly plain declamation, but with passages of tender lyricism, particularly in the heartrending final scene – makes him one of opera’s most fascinating enigmas. It is up to each singer of the role to decide how villainous, or how noble, he might be. Boris Ismailov – Shostakovich ’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk There’s no doubting the villainy of Boris Ismailov, who scolds his daughter-in-law Katerina in growling tirades, dreams of seducing her to the sounds of a sleazy waltz, brutally attacks her lover Sergey and terrifyingly returns after his death to haunt Katerina. And yet, one can’t wholly despise Boris Ismailov. As John Tomlinson , one of the role’s greatest interpreters, has remarked: ‘Boris… is completely unredeemable… but there’s something admirable about the sheer energy of the guy’. Claggart – Britten ’s Billy Budd Claggart is another great bass villain – the low, hollow sound of his voice make his mixture of brutality and Machiavellian cunning particularly terrifying. He’s not one-dimensionally evil though: his great Act I monologue ‘O beauty, handsomeness, goodness’ – which Britten’s librettist E.M. Forster considered the most ‘important piece of writing’ in the libretto – conveys emotional confusion and loneliness as well as a nihilistic compulsion to destroy what is good. Moses – Schoenberg ’s Moses und Aron Schoenberg movingly portrays Moses’s inarticulacy by writing his part entirely in growling, halting Sprechstimme (half-song, half-speech), while casting his articulate but untrustworthy brother Aron as a mellifluous lyric tenor. But the dramatic intensity and psychological complexity of Moses’s part more than compensates for its limited melodic content, particularly in the final soliloquy, which ends with the heart-breaking words ‘O Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt!’ (O Word, you Word that I lack!). Don Carlo runs 12–29 May 2017. Tickets are still available. The production is a co-production with Norwegian National Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York and is sponsored by Coutts with generous philanthropic support from Ian and Tina Taylor and The Taylor Family Foundation, Aud Jebsen, Simon and Virginia Robertson, the Patrons of Covent Garden , The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and The Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover awards .
Once, ENO new season announcements were exciting. If only that could be said of the 2017-2018 season. Perhaps this was inevitable given the unprecedented funding cuts. The ENO still has the potential to be the creative powerhouse it once was, but not, I suspect, under the new system. Whether Cressida Pollock's management genius has turned to company round, or in a different direction, still isn't clear. It's been a while since the Arts Council England's "special measures" - still largely unspecified - have been in place, so it would be interesting to know how far these have been addressed. Four new productions, the most promising being Verdi Aida, which launches the new season and could well be the hit of the year. It's directed by Phelim McDermott, from whom we can depend on for good theatre. His Philip Glass Satyagraha, with Improbable, premiered in 2007, was so inventive that it's being revived yet again in February 2018. Glass's unusual idiom defies the notion that avant garde doesn't sell. It does when it's done well. Indeed, Glass operas have contributed greatly to the ENO's creative reputation. Last year McDermott;'s Glass Akhnaten was a success. Aida, with its potential,for grand theatrical special effects should be well suited to McDermott's style. The cast will include Latoniua Moore, Michelle DeYoung, Morenike Fadayomi, Gwynne Hughes Jones, Brindley Sherratt , Matthew Best and Musa Ngqungwana. Keri-Lynne Wilson conducts. ENO loyalists should be out in force to show support for the comapny's traditioins. The ENO and the Met have understandings. Nico Muhly's Two Boys premiered at the ENO before moving on, somewhat changed to the Met. Muhly's new Marnie at the ENO will be conducted by Martyn Brabbins, now the ENO Music Director, a specialist in modern English language opera. That should ensure a good musical performance, however the opera turns out. (Keri-Lynn Wilson, incidentally is Mrs Peter Gelb) Following on the success of Mike Leigh's The Pirates of Penzance, Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, directed by Cal McCrystal whose background is in theatre. Then Daniel Kramer's production of La Traviata with Claudia Boyle. Revivals of audience favourites include Jonathan Miller's The Barber of Seville, Richard Jones's Rodelinda, Phelim McDermott's Satyagraha, Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro which will also be conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
The Times reports this morning that the custodians of the Verdi estate are handing over 5,300 pages of the composer’s notes to the Italian state archives. They include 900 pages of notes on Falstaff, including an instruction that reads ‘burn all these documents’. The trove, which has been the subject of a prolonged dispute among heirs, will now be digitised and be put online.
The Italian soprano Rita Orlandi, who was billed as Rita Orlandi Malaspina after her marriage to the bass Massimiliano Malaspino, died in Milan on April 8. Originally from Bologna, she made her 1963 debut in Giovanna d’Arco, reached La Scala three years later in Forza and specialised throughout her international career in Verdi roles, though she also sang Elsa in Lohengrin and, inevitably, Tosca. For a soprano of her stature, she made comparatively few recordings.
We hear that Veronica Kleiber, daughter of Erich and sister of Carlos, has died at the Casa Verdi in Milan, aged 89. Veronica, who said ‘I am the only non-musician in my family’, was close to her brother and instrumental in his close friendship with Claudio Abbado, for whom she worked. She shared a few of her memories in a 2010 RAI documentary on Carlos, which can be read and heard here. photo: Marina Evreison Arshinova
Giuseppe Verdi (10 October 1813 - 27 January 1901) was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. His works are frequently performed in opera houses throughout the world and, transcending the boundaries of the genre, some of his themes have long since taken root in popular culture - such as "La donna è mobile" from Rigoletto, "Va, pensiero" (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Nabucco, "Libiamo ne' lieti calici" (The Drinking Song) from La traviata and the "Grand March" from Aida. Although his work was sometimes criticized for using a generally diatonic rather than a chromatic musical idiom and having a tendency toward melodrama, Verdis masterworks dominate the standard repertoire a century and a half after their composition.
Great composers of classical music