THE MAGIC FLUTE from The Royal Opera

Sung play in two acts with music by Wolfgang A. Mozart and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder

In a production by the Royal Opera

Director: David McVicar

Conductor: Colin Davis

Designer: John Macfarlane

Cast:

Tamino: William Hartmann

Pamina: Dorothea Roschmann

Papageno: Simon Keenlyside

Sarastro: Franz Joseph Selig

Queen of the Night: Diana Damrau

Speaker: Thomas Allen

Papagena: Ailish Tynan

Monostatos: Adrian Thompson

Three Ladies: Gillian Webster, Christine Rice, Yvonne Howard

Two Priests: Mathew Beale, Richard Van Allan

Two Men in Armor: Alan Oke, Graeme Broadbent

Three Spirits: Zico Shaker, Tom Chapman, John Holland-Avery

The Royal Opera production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute mines the fantastical aspects of the story while preserving the humanity of the characters, especially the “working class” ones. Even Gillian Webster, Christine Rice, and Yvonne Howard, the three ladies who serve the Queen of the Night become in the guiding hands of director David Mc Vicar three delightfully manipulative, randy gossips. The Papageno of Simon Keenlyside is common man personified: a wily as a fox yet vulnerable survivor, and he can sing with the very best of them.

William Hartmann’s Tamino is beset by rough patches in the high tessitura of the Bildniss aria, at best vocally in the heroic moments. Dorothea Roschmann, in her youthful prime is the perfect Mozart soprano is fresh voiced and honest in her acting. The Queen of the Night of Diana Damrau is evil incarnate, her singing faultless and often exciting. The Sarastro of Franz Joseph Selig is nobly sung, the Speaker of Thomas Allen perfect in all aspects.

The production design is superbly realized with 18th century costumes worn against a multi-colored background, the use of animal puppets sheer delight.

Colin Davis conducts with complete mastery of the Mozart score, allowing his soloists plenty of flexibility.

This, in short, is yet another immensely satisfying offering in the Royal Opera Collection.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Royal Opera Carmen

The 2006 Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is as good as any in our memory.

First of all there is the beautifully sung and compellingly acted Don José of Jonas Kaufmann. Then there is the Carmen of Anna Caterina Antonacci, a Spinto soprano with plenty of chest range and vast vocal reserves, voluptuous dramatically and vocally faultless. The Micaela is sung by Nora Ansellem, pretty as a picture and elegant of voice. The Escamillo is the fine bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, one more member of the best-looking, best-sounding Carmen casts in memory.

Much commends this terrific production, beginning with Francesca Zambello’s straight to the point, no nonsense staging, beginning with the opening scene in which the American director sets the stage for what will follow, bathing everything in local color and Southern Spanish chiaroscuro morning light (the wonderful lighting is by Paule Constable). Zambello works attentively with every member of the supporting cast, every adult and every child in the choruses, fine-tuning every bit of business, with no detail ever escaping her watchful eye.  The sets and costumes by Tanya McCallin unequivocally set in 19th century Spain are accurate and vividly colorful.

Antonio Pappano conducts this quintessential French opera as commandingly as he leads just about any work in the wide ranging repertoire of the Royal Opera. Many of the tacked-on Guiraud recitatives of the Vienna revival are mercifully dispensed with in this production, spoken dialogue taking their place and well handled by all of the cast.

The excellent supporting players are all deserving of kudos: Jacques Imbrailo’s charming Morales,  Mathew Rose’s appropriately gruff Zuniga, and the lively quartet of smugglers – Elena Xanthoudakis, Victoria Vizin, Jean-Sebastien Bou, and Jean-Paul Fouchecourt.

We began this review by claiming “The Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is as good as any in our memory.” Let us correct that: The Royal Opera production of Georges Bizet’s CARMEN is the best in our memory.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Don Giovanni from the Royal Opera

DON GIOVANNI

OPERA IN TWO ACTS BY Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte

Directed by Kasper Holten

Set design by Es Devlin

Costume design by Anja Van Kragh

Video design by Luke Halls

The Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti

Don Giovanni – Mariusz Kwiecien

Leporello – Alex Esposito

Donna Anna – Malin Bystrom

Donna Elvira – Veronique Gens

Zerlina – Elizabeth Watts

Don Ottavio – Antonio Poli

Masetto – Dawid Kimberg

Commendattore – Alexander Tsymbalyuk

Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni translates literally as Don Giovanni, the Punished Dissolute. Based on the legend of Don Juan, a fictional character who seduced hundreds of women in several European countries, the original play written by Tirso de Molina inspired many playwrights and novelists to spin their own stories about this iconic cad, most famously Lorenzo Da Ponte, the librettist for Mozart’s opera.

The casting requirements – based on Mozart’s own wishes for the premiere are clear. The title role was conceived for Luigi Bassi, a baritone who also sang the part of Count Almaviva in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Francesco Benucci, Mozart’s favorite bass-baritone was the Leporello. The Donna Anna and the Donna Elvira were cast with similar sopranos in the premiere and in the Prague revival, and one can surmise that Aloysia Weber and Caterina Cavalieri fared well in roles that required agility – Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir’ and Donna Elvira’s ‘Mi tradi’, in addition to dramatic cutting power.

When it comes to the women in the Royal Opera cast, the choice of Malin Byström for Donna Anna and Veronique Gens for Donna Elvira works well. Both these fine artists take on the challenges of their several arias unfazed, both have flexible, full-bodied instruments and idiomatic command of the text. Elizabeth Watts is a fine Zerlina.

The men’s roles are well assigned as well: Mariusz Kwiecien in the title part – a lyric baritone with enough vocal heft and dramatic skills to make the final confrontation with the Commendattore work, and bass-baritone Alex Esposito, a Leporello light and flexible of voice, very funny in his handling of the Catalogue aria, and vocally solid in all the ensembles in which he carries the bass line. And both Esposito and Kwiecien are terrific actors. Don Ottavio is well sung by Bruno Poli and Dawid Kimberg delivers an effective Masetto.

When it comes to the staging and design one struggles to find words of praise. Director Kasper Holten, set designer Es Devlin, costume designer Anja Van Kragh, and video designer by Luke Halls seem all four bent together in imposing a drab, post-modern look on the production. That visual concept fails to bring to life the fantastical element of the story and, what is worse dehumanizes the behavior of the characters.

Nicola Luisoti conducts with a solid command of the score as well as stylishly playing the recitatives.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

UPDATED: ALL ABOUT THE ARTS – BEST OF 2021

Throughout 2021 we received more than 300 CD’s and DVD’s for reviewing. There were over 12,000 visitors to our blog ALL ABOUT THE ARTS, coming from 105 countries: from Albania to Zimbabwe, Their response to those reviews was unfailingly positive, and it helped us choose the best CD’s, DVD’s and on-line performances in two categories: vocal music and instrumental music.

VOCAL MUSIC

The Garsington Opera Der Rosenkavalier is set in a mid-century Vienna that could as easily be any major city where Christian Dior’s fashions ruled. The concept works and is enthusiastically embraced by director Bruno Ravella, who works wonders with his four principals and with a large cast of your artists and seasoned comprimarios. Jordan de Souza’s mastery of the score is remarkable. Swedish soprano Miah Persson stands out as a superb Marschallin. She sings as gloriously as any Marschallin in memory, and is in excellent company, with Polish mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp an exciting, boyish Octavian, American soprano Madison Leonard an enchanting Sophie, and Derrick Ballard a bass-baritone who sings rather than barks Baron Ochs’ notes and is very funny to boot.

Dedicated to the victims of Covid 19 in Italy and to all the volunteers who tended to their needs, and given in a socially distanced setting with its participating artists and audience, the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini and the chorus of Parma’s Teatro Regio led by Roberto Abbado delivered a powerhouse performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Manzoni Requiem on the Dynamic label.

It is rare to find these days a great voice and a great artist in the person of the same singer: Anita Rachvelishvili is that rare individual. The SONY CLASSICAL INTERNATIONAL recording of Russian art songs is perfectly engineered and elegantly produced, providing yet another calling card to one of the great mezzo-sopranos of today.

In the Bridge Records CD Visca l’amor, Mexican-American tenor Isai Jess Muñoz is featured in a recital of Catalan songs by Toldrà and Mompou, among others. Muñoz, a singing artist of the highest caliber, bestows his expressive voice, sensitive musicianship, and refined way with words on an unjustly ignored segment of the art song literature, with pianist Oksana Glouchko the ideal partner in this one-of-a-kind recital.

INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC

Every time I hear Stewart Goodyear play I am reminded of what an extraordinary pianist he is. That just happened when I received a copy of his CD Phoenix from the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things. Flawlesly engineered, mixed, and mastered by Daniel Shores, elegantly produced by Dan Mercurio and Louis Levitt, and nicely packaged and designed by Marian C. Holmes and Julia-Buz, the CD was recorded back in February of this year and just released. It features an intriguing selection of contemporary music by Jennifer HigdonAnthony Davis, and Stewart Goodyear himself.

The extraordinary Korean-American cellist Jonah Kim opens up new vistas onto music by Zoltán Kodály, Mark Abel and Edvard Grieg in the recently-recorded Delos CD APPROACHING AUTUMN, in which he dazzles with his fierce playing and technical prowess, partnered by the excellent pianist Robert Koenig.

In his album ENTRE DOS ALMAS for Outhere Music Stefano Maiorana, an immensely accomplished Renaissance and Baroque specialist brings solid technique, keen musicality and intense temperament to the guitar music of Santiago de Murcia and Arcangelo Corelli: two kindred souls enriching one another by way of Maiorana’s exquisite artistry.NEW MUSIC

In Supertrain Records’ AN AMERICAN MOSAIC Simone Dinnerstein gives Richard Danielpour’s delicate, economical of means, sometimes restless, most often tranquil music for the piano a noble, straightforward, sensitive reading that renders this treasure of an album of new music an essential one.

Unfinished Earth by Douglas Knehans depicts with organized sound much of what is randomly disorganized in nature and in human beings, Knehans’ Tempest offers music at times jittery, at others elegiac, elegantly played by flutist Gareth Davies, as soloist with the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra helmed by Mikel Toms, in a performance as brilliant as Knehans’ music itself.

Orlando Jacinto García’s music spins continuously while minute changes of texture and tone happen imperceptibly in a METIER release to which one must listen attentively, the rewards then to be derived being immense. The Amernet Quartet plays this music with unflagging discipline and sensitivity. One hopes that METIER will continue to record the fascinating music of this pioneering artist.

Gemma Peacocke’s Amygdala in the BRIGHT SHINY THINGS’ CD LAVENA in your hands is one of several compositions featuring cellist Lavena Johanson performing works byJesse Montgomery, Carolyn Shaw, Ted Hearne, Bryce Dessner and Judah Adashi ina fascinating sampler of new music played by a gifted musician.

Yalil Guerra’s Sonata No. 1, Siglo XXI reveals a fertile musical mind in a work in search of a tonal and harmonic center set upon by uncertainty and emotional upheavals, giving expression in highly rhythmic sections that threaten to vanquish frequent moments of exquisite lyricism. The recording with the indispensable pianist Marcos Madrigal is available on several platforms, including You Tube.

Rafael de Acha ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

A DOWN TO EARTH FIGARO

LE NOZZE DI FIGARO

MUSIC BY W.A. MOZART              LIBRETTO BY LOENZO DA PONTE

A ROYAL OPERA HOUSE PRODUCTION

ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ORCHESTRA AND CHORUS

CONDUCTOR: ANTONIO PAPPANO

DIRECTOR: DAVID Mc VICAR

DESIGNER: TANYA MC CALLIN

WITH EDWIN SCHROTT, MIAH PERSSON, DOROTHEA ROSCHMANN, GERALD FINLEY, RINAT SHAHAN, JONATHAN VEIRA, GRACIELA ARAYA, PHILIP LANGRIDGE, ANA JAMES, FRANCIS EGERTON, and JEREMY WHITE

The ROYAL OPERA HOUSE production of LE NOZZE DI FIGARO – better known on this side of the ocean by its English title: The Marriage of Figaro has much in it that deserves unqualified praise, above all its cast of seasoned singing actors. There’s that and almost no draconian cuts, so that Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s  Act IV arias are preserved and very nicely respectively delivered by Philip Langridge and Graciela Araya.

The eleven principals excel in first class vocalism all the while fleshing out strong characterizations injected with humor and down-to-earth humanity.

There’s Edwin Schrott as Figaro and Gerald Finley as Count Almaviva, two excellent bass-baritones who bring out the danger in their relationship and imbue their singing with menace while singing elegantly.

Likewise the mistress-maid dynamic is performed by Dorothea Roschmann and Miah Persson with cystal clear clarity and injected with genuine affection. In addition both sopranos sing gloriously, and their connection to Rinat Shahan’s endearing Cherubino fluctuates from maternal to carnal.

The supporting roles of Dr. Bartolo and Marcellina become in the capable hands of Jonathan Veira and Graciela Araya real human beings whose Act III discovery of their true relationship to each other and to Figaro wins our hearts.  Even the tiny roles of Don Curzio (Francis Egerton), Barbarina (Ana James) and Antonio (Jeremy White) are flawlessly rendered in David Mc Vicar’s production.

There’s no question that the vast interiors of the Castle of Aguas Frescas might be architecturally accurate and, further, that they are meant to convey by designer Tanya Mc Callin a certain feeling of isolation amongst its quarreling inhabitants, although I could not make head or tails of the puzzling change from Act III’s palatial hall to Act IV’s neither indoors nor outdoors environment.  Mc Callin’s choice of early 19th century costumes places the action in a post-Napoleonic sunless Seville where the loathsome “droit du seigneur” is up for discussion and the Goyesque, high-waist silhouette allows the women a modicum of corset-less freedom.

David McVicar’s staging fully succeeds in sparing the audience any clowning or posturing on the part of the singers. Other than the silent character of the old woman who aimlessly wanders around toward the end of the opera I found his directorial choices unimpeachable.

Antonio Pappano led the orchestra and cast with untiring energy and Mozartian elegance.  

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS                    

A PERFECT LA BOHEME

La Bohéme

Music – Giacomo Puccini

Libretto – Giacosa & Illica after Henry Murger’s Scénes de la vie de Bohme

Conductor: Andris Nelsons

The Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House

Director: John Copley

Designer: Julia Trevelyan Oman

Cast: Mimi – Hibla Gerzmaya; Rodolfo: Teodor Ilincai; Marcello: Gabriele Viviani;

Musetta: Inna Dukach; Schaunard: Jacques Imbrailo; Colline: Kostas Smoriginas;

Benoit: Jeremy White; Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell

I can’t think of any opera as perfect as La Bohéme. Puccini premiered in 1896, twelve years after his first, youthful Le Villi and preceded it by Edgar and Manon Lescaut, after all of which he had plenty of know how about his work – no wonder he got La Bohéme one hundred percent right!

Act I runs under one hour – a time span during which impoverished boy Rodolfo, a writer (Teodor Ilincai) meets impoverished girl, Mimi, a seamstress (Hibla Gerzmaya).

They fall in love, they go out for dinner with friends, they have as much fun as they will be allowed to have for the rest of the opera. Time passes, they split up. Winter freezes everything except their love. They decide they will reunite until spring comes, at which time… who knows…

That is Act I, during which we have met Marcello, painter (Gabriele Viviani); Schaunard, musician (Jacques Imbrailo); Colline, philosopher(Kostas Smoriginas); and Musetta, part time singer, full time flirt (Inna Dukach).

A perfect opera calls for a perfect cast, and the Royal Opera House’s 2009 cast is just about that, starting with their vocal and dramatic youthfulness, that is except of course for Benoit, their landlord (Jeremy White), and Alcindoro, Musetta’s paramour du jour (Donald Maxwell) both excellent in their foolish-old-men roles.

Hibla Gerzmaya’s Mimi is a joy to look at and to listen to. She inhabits her role with a wonderful mix of charm, vulnerability, and courage. And she can sing the role flawlessly: her Mi chiamano Mimi would cause any full-blooded poet to fall head over heels in love with her. In Act II, her Donde lieta usci is a lesson in bringing Giacosa & Illica’s words to life in seamless union with Puccini’s music.

Teodor Ilincai’s Rodolfo is handsome, forthright, dramatically honest, and vocally unimpeachable. He is as good a Rodolfo as I have heard, and he can both sing full out and reign his ample voice back to a whisper when needed.

The other four bohemians: Gabriele Viviani, Jacques Imbrailo, Kostas Smoriginas and Inna Dukach are top of the line each in his or her own right, with the spunky Inna Dukach vocally impressive and picture pretty.

Director John Copley and Designer Julia Trevelyan Oman deliver a dramatically and visually superb production utterly faithful to Puccini’s original intentions as to time and place, and one in which not one single human or physical element is out of place.

Andris Nelsons leads the Royal Opera House orchestra and chorus and his cast of principals with a balanced mix of flexibility and spontaneity, obtaining as a result a performance infused with joy and sensitivity.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Indeed, a perfect La Bohéme! Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

IL TABARRO and SUOR ANGELICA from COVENT GARDEN

THE ROYAL OPERA DVD COLLECTION

IL TRITTICO: SUOR ANGELICA and IL TABARRO.

GIANNI SCHICCHI REVIEWED SEPARATELY ELSEWHERE ON THIS BLOG.

MUSIC: GIACOMO PUCINI

IL TABARRO – LIBRETTO BY GIUSEPPE ADAMI, after Didier Gold’s play La Houppelande

Director: Richard Jones

Set Designer: Ultz

Costume Designer: Nicki Gillebrand

The Orchestra  and Chorus of the Royal Opera House led by Antonio Pappano

Cast:

Michele – Lucio Gallo

Giorgietta – Eva Maria Westbroek

Luigi – Aleksandrs Antonenko

Tinca – Alan Oke Talpa – Jeremy White Frugola – Irina Mishura Song Seller – Ji-Min Park

Lovers – Anna Devin & Robert Anthony Gardiner

SUOR ANGELICA – LIBRETTO BY GIOVACCHINO FORZANO

Director: Richard Jones

Set Designer: Miriam Buether

Costume Designer: Nicki Gillebrand

The Orchestra  and Chorus of the Royal Opera House led by Antonio Pappano

Cast:

Sister Angelica: Ermonela Jaho  The Princess – Anna Larsson

With: Elena Zilio, Melissa Alder, Kate MacCarney, Elizabeth Sikora, Eryl Royle, Anna Devin, Kathy Batho, Elizabeth Key, Elizabeth Woollett, Gillian Webster, Kathleen Wilder and Irina Mishura

Richard Jones’ production of Puccini’s IL TRITTICO for the Royal Opera is very effective. With scenic design by Ultz and costuming by Nicki Gillebrand Jones’ slightly updated concept works well for IL TABARRO which in its original, world premiere 1918 production was set on a barge in the River Seine around the turn of the century.

In the case of Jones’ SUOR ANGELICA the updating works less well, with the nuns got up in outfits that do no favors to any of them and the action set in a drab convent hospital designed by Miriam Buether lacking the florally enchanting garden Puccini evokes in his music and Giovacchino Forzano would have wanted as a setting for his libretto, all of it once more going to prove that the updating and arbitrary relocating of operas is a touch and go thing, especially as in this case, with the miracle written in by Puccini into this score all but absent.

The cast for IL TABARRO is uniformly strong, with the superb Lucio Gallo a vocal and dramatic tower of strength as Michele, Eva Maria Westbroek making a strong impression as a vulnerable Giorgietta, and Aleksandrs Antonenko in fine voice as a muscular Luigi. The supporting roles are excellently handled by Alan Oke, Jeremy White, the superb Irina Mishura as Fruggola,  Ji-Min Park, Anna Devin, and Robert Anthony Gardiner.

The cast of SUOR ANGELICA is sheer perfection, with Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho sublime as the guilt-ridden but still defiantly strong nun, and Swedish contralto Anna Larsson note perfect as the unbending Princess.

Keeping the two principals excellent company the ever-impressive Elena Zilio excels in her supporting role along with Melissa Alder, Kate MacCarney, Elizabeth Sikora, Eryl Royle, Anna Devin, Kathy Batho, Elizabeth Key, Elizabeth Woollett, Gillian Webster, Kathleen Wilder and Irina Mishura sing and act angelically.

In both scores, Antonio Pappano is exemplary, bringing out the blood and guts elements of IL TABARRO and the poignancy and lyricism of SUOR ANGELICA.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND PAGLIACCI FROM COVENT GARDEN

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND PAGLIACCI

Music: Pietro Mascagni/Ruggero Leoncavallo (libretto and music)

Libretto: Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti and Guido Menasci after the play by Giovanni Verga

Recorded live at the Royal Opera House in 2015

Director: Damiano Michieletto

Designers: Paolo Fantin and Carla Teti

Royal Opera Orchestra and Chorus led by Antonio Pappano

Turiddu, Canio: Aleksandrs Antonenko 

Santuzza: Eva-Maria Westbroek 

Nedda: Carmen Giannattasio

Alfio/Tonio: Dimitri Platanias                      

Mamma Lucia: Elena Zilio 

Lola: Martina Belli

Silvio: Dyonisios Sourbis

The Royal Opera production of a double bill of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND PAGLIACCI is a mix of the excellent, the adequate and the under par. There is, to begin with, the presence of the Greek baritone Dmitri Platanias in the dual assignment of Alfio and Tonio. In both of which he excels vocally and dramatically, nailing the Pagliacci prologue and the duet with Santuzza in Cavalleria. Then there is the excellent Nedda of Carmen Giannattasio, pleasing to the eye, vocally top notch in the scenes with Tonio and Silvio (the very good baritone Dyonisios Sourbis) and superb in her aria.

The Turiddu and Canio of Aleksandrs Antonenko are adequate at best. A big voiced, big fellow he tends to manhandle his sopranos and bully any and all men who oppose him. But that is only part of the characters he is playing. Turiddu is supposedly popular with his fellow Sicilians, presumably a good son. As for Canio, all we get from Antonenko is a brute who pushes everybody around, along with pushing his voice to its limits.

In the supporting roles of Lola and Mamma Lucia, Martina Belli and the always solid Elena Zilio deliver one hundred percent.

Eva-Maria Westbroek is not the ideal Santuzza. A reliable singer who excels in a specialized repertory of Wagner, Poulenc and Janáček, she looks and sounds ill at ease in the quintessentially Italian role of the jilted Sicilian woman.

Designers: Paolo Fantin and Carla Teti and stage director Damiano Michieletto opted for a bleak, sunless, at times claustrophobic look, relentlessly colorless in both the modern dress and in a set that often felt crowded in the choral scenes and unserviceable throughout, with a bakery in Cavalleria remaining the one and only location throughout the opera and a double-take sequence in Pagliacci with the play within the play taking place simultaneously with a backstage drama, both in a church hall, not in an outdoor stage wagon – all of it making absolutely no sense.

On the plus side there is the wonderful conducting of Antonio Pappano, who time and again throughout this Royal Opera series proves to be one of today’s finest opera conductors.

This DVD is part of the Royal Opera Collection (  OA1337BD / OABD7291BD).    

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Opera Vision features Der Rosenkavalier from  the Garsington Opera

For those of us not familiar with Opera Vision or with the Garsington Opera or with both, here’s a bief bit of background.

Supported by the European Union’s Creative Europe program, OperaVision builds on the success of more opera companies from more countries, under the editorial supervision of Opera Europa, the European association of opera companies and festivals. OperaVision brings together 29 partners from 17 countries and invites you to travel and discover the diversity of opera from wherever you want, whenever you want.

Garsington Opera gives performances of great artistic quality in a setting of extraordinary natural beauty. Performances take place in the spectacular Opera Pavilion, which sits within the rolling landscape of the Chiltern Hills, less than an hour from London.

Garsington Opera was founded in 1989 by the late Leonard Ingrams and his wife Rosalind at Garsington Manor, near Oxford. Following Leonard’s untimely death, Garsington Opera moved to the Wormsley Estate, home of the Getty family, in 2011.

The festival presents a program of four operas each year during a seven-week summer period, often including a Mozart opera, and also champions less-known works which have included a number of notable British premieres to include Haydn’s Orlando Paladino, Vivaldi’s L’Olimpiade, and Rossini’s ArmidaL’equivoco stravagante and Maometto secondo.

Productions have also been taken to a number of European festivals and the company’s 2007 production of Richard Strauss’s Die ägyptische Helena was presented at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

The current production of the Garsington Opera is Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. I am personally averse to updates of operas in which a director chooses to set a work in a time and place different from that intended by its original creators. This sort of practice often leads to productions where costuming and stage sets try to replace good work with singing actors and where characterization and behavior remains unattended resulting in mediocre acting trying to pass for good. The Garsington Opera Der Rosenkavalier production is set in a mid-century Vienna that could as easily be Paris or Milan or New York or any major city where Christian Dior’s fashion design ruled. The concept works and is enthusiastically embraced by director Bruno Ravella, who works wonders with his four principals and with a large cast of your artists and seasoned comprimarios. Jordan de Souza’s mastery of the score is remarkable.

In the current Der Rosenkavalier from Garsington Opera the Swedish soprano Miah Persson stands out as a superb Marschallin. Recognized for years as a gorgeous Sophie in the same opera, Ms. Persson, now in her early fifties brings tremendous dramatic poignancy to the role of a beautiful woman cognizant of the fact that her physical charms are disappearing, and along with them the hold she has over the young Count Octavian, easily three decades younger than her. In addition to her detailed and charming characterization, Ms. Persson sings as gloriously as any Marshallin in memory, and goodness knows that is some  very illustrious company, one in which she can now hold her own.

In the Garsington cast Miah Persson is in excellent company, with Polish mezzo-soprano Hannah Hipp an excellent, boyish Octavian, American soprano Madison Leonard an enchanting Sophie, and Derrick Ballard a bass-baritone who, for a refreshing change of pace, actually sings rather than barks Baron Ochs’ notes and is very funny to boot.

I found this production fresh, inventive, and invigorating and trust you will too.

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOU THE ARTS

THE CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OPENS ITS 2021-2022 SEASON

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra opened its 2021-2022 season with two concerts, one program for both on October 29 and 30.

Suspend is a 20-minute fantasy for piano and orchestra that pianist Emanuel Ax commissioned from composer Andrew Norman. Intended to sound like an improvisation Suspend asks of its audience to temporarily set aside all expectations of how concert music should sound.

Melody, rhythm, and contrapuntal complexity are set aside, suspended –as the title of the work implies – their place taken by seemingly random strains of sound, first from the piano, later from the orchestra. The effect is calming and mysterious. Pianist Drew Petersen effectively took the piano part.

The F-A-E Sonata was a collaborative effort conceived by Robert Schumann as homage to the violinist Joseph Joachim. Johannes Brahms and Albert Dietrich each took one movement, with Schumann taking the other two. Brahms used the notes F, A, and E, a musical cryptogram based on the German motto Frei Aber Einsam (Free but alone) to construct the movement assigned to him. CSO’s Stefani Matsuo played with verve, with Drew Petersen at the piano providing energetic support, both earning warm applause from the audience.

Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F majorbears the opus number ninety, which indicates that it is a mature work that comes years after several of the composer’s great works, notably the violin concerto, the two piano concertos, the symphonies nos. 1 and 2, and the Academic Overture.

The Symphony No. 3 in F majoris divided into four movements: an opening Allegro, a second Andante, a third Allegretto in C minor, and a closing Allegro that goes back and forth between major and minor in tonality and, by extension in mood. What opened as restless in tone, transitions into a temporarily calm second movement that gives preference to the woodwinds as if to convey a sense of tranquility after the stormy motions of the opening Allegro. But then and unexpectedly Brahms thrusts the music into the C minor sadness of the third movement. The final movement takes a surprisingly tempestuous path that eventually leads to an unexpected quiet ending.

Warmly welcomed by a capacity audience Louis Langrée and the rank and file of the CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA excelled throughout this opening concert in music making of the highest order auguring a season yet to come filled with great music.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS