Tag Archives: Richard Strauss

The serious business of being Richard Jones / Der Rosenkavalier / Glyndebourne – 8 June 2014

11 Jun

Glyntz RosenkavalierThis production of Rosenkavalier became a media sensation a few weeks back on the back of a bunch of jaded bores that focused on why a woman who is dressed as man and pretends to be a woman didn’t look manly enough. A truly burning non problem. What they seem to have skirted around was the elephant in the room…the oversupply of stock Richard Jones and not nearly enough Richard Strauss.
All the clichés are there for the count…comedic furniture, ugly wallpaper, pointless zombie crowd scene, early 20th century update and list goes on and on. Jones treating the work as an opera buffa with a disregard for the central question on aging and loneliness. The Marshallin seen as a clothes horse that has little emotional depth and just likes to flaunt her beauty in empty gestures and exhibitionism. This central betrayal of the opera is an impossible fact to ignore. At least most of his well-drilled visual jokes fell fairly flat on Sunday with the only true laughs for a sofa in Act Three which proves how his slapstick doesn’t quite work in practice anymore. And renders many of the set pieces predictable and meaningless.

His only real engagement with a character’s deeper implications was the one of Sophie’s. Her presentation at the Faninal palace on top of an oversized board room table did spell out her status as a tradable good. As always with Strauss his women are multilayered human beings with interesting stories to tell. Sophie’s love at first time moment with Octavian was exaggerated with a side to side synchronised sway that one would expect on a Disney cartoon. It may have been endearing at first but eventually made the characters look incapable of true feelings. For all his directorial skill at stage pictures he seemed lost at sea at engaging with the emotional worlds that Hofmannsthal and Strauss worked so hard at. Taking a multilayered social drama of the souls and turning it into a parody.
The musical standards were equally patchy with Kate Royal being obviously cast for her gorgeous looks but not for her voice, who became barely audible at any orchestral surges and in duets with Tara Erraught. It is a role that has some of the most thoughtful and introspective music in Strauss’ output and yet Kate Royal preened and stared with little pathos and with a matching bland and underpowered vocal performance. Having seen both Soile Isokoski and Anne Schwanewilms in the last month sing the part I was disappointed. The magic of the score evaporated into a forced battle for survival. The effortless grandeur required turned into a whimper.

Tara Erraught’s Octavian may not have displayed the eloquence that comes with experience with the likes of Sarah Connolly and Alice Coote but she displayed a vivid engagement with the horny, red-headed side of the character and truly let her hair down as Mariandel layering the slapstick thickly, very much in style with the direction.  Her singing assured and her projection loud and clear.

The Baron Ochs of Lars Woldt was an extraordinary find, a role that in recent years had become the preserve of end of career baritones, using humour to hide huge vocal deficiencies, it became a star vehicle. He sang with great warmth and the attention to the language only a native German speaker can give. His take on the role less sarcastic than most, made me for the first time feel compassionate and maybe even protective of him.

Also very strong contributions by Michael Kraus as Faninal that countered Ochs with the superficial seriousness new money brings. The Marianne of Miranda Keys made a big impression in her description of the arrival of Baron Ochs’ entourage mixing her sweet toned voice with her over-excited persona.

The overall musical direction of Robin Ticciati was lithe and swift but quite frequently at the expense of the more lush string sound one would expect in this opera. It was a display of promise for the future seasons than the finished article of a performance. Maybe having heard the LSO and the CBSO play the score in the past weeks spoilt me.

For all the uproar and the body shaming, it is terribly ironic how very few people focused on the flip side of the coin. The casting of a wonderful singer that is totally inappropriate for the role. The final trio is one of the most sublime pieces written for female voices and yet on Sunday I could not wait for it to end. It had none of the magical, superlative beauty.

Glyntz Rosenkavalier List

The Curtain Call 

Some Tweets from the day

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Shimmering Strauss / Capriccio / Royal Opera House – 21 July 2013

29 Jul

CapriccioIt has been a week and it is maybe too late to write a long and detailed account but I could not pass the opportunity to write about a truly wonderful evening with one of the greatest Strauss singers of our times. Renée Fleming all too infrequently graces the stage of the Royal Opera House and those two concert performances of Capriccio were the hot ticket of the season. Judging from the people around us quite a few of them were there to tell their friends about it than to watch and be immersed in Strauss’s last opera. Particularly the gentleman next  to me spend most of the two and a half hours staring at his watch , tossing and turning and biting his nails. Something that thankfully happens rarely.

Capriccio like a few of his operas has a long climb over dense recitativi that may seem taxing but I see them as a minor trial for the glorious final pay off. His melodic gift and the way he put together 18th century French motifs with his usual glowing orchestration is such a genuinely sensual experience that cannot be replicated be listening to any recording. The Royal Opera House orchestra was on great form and under Andrew Davis they delivered a mellifluous account of the score, short maybe on a touch of largesse but it was enveloping and luxurious. Due to the dialectic nature of the work not having the staging wasn’t too damaging as it allowed full concentration to the words and music. And that being the main philosophical issue concerning the stage action it cannot possibly be a bad thing.

The cast with the exception of Fleming, Skovhus, Banks and Plaza were using scores but most managed to convey the essence of their character. Particularly the little petulant put downs between Andrew Staples and Christian Gerhaher were delicious and brought out the controlled hilarity of the libretto. Fleming and Skovhus were in a level of their own, bouncing off each other and having a complete command of the stage and projecting strong personalities throughout. Particularly Fleming in her silver Vivienne Westwood dress was exuding finesse and enough upper class deportment to convince, while having a knowing glint in the eye.

Her sublime final monologue was a huge climactic pay off and it was definitely worth the two-hour wait. The uncertainty filled conclusion was rendered in glowing sotto voce with unmistakable depth of feeling. Every gesture a small way in to her inner thoughts, understated and yet impossible for one to take their eyes off her. The star quality of the main heroine in a Strauss opera is for me as part of the experience as the work itself. Without the inner glow and stage experience it can render the work a parody and Strauss’s calculated built ups into dull plateaus. Her final choice between music or text or one of her either suitors Olivier or Flamand and her final indecision was beautifully acted as she picked up the music and the words in separate pieces of paper and tossed the words and longingly looked at the music before she left it on the chair and finished off the scene. We were none the wiser but at heart we hoped that Flamand and her love of his setting for the sonnet won her over.

There were a couple of weak links in the cast but all could be brushed aside at the sight and sound of Fleming who won hearts and minds and the eruption of applause made no secret how much we appreciated all she offered.

The stage was rigged for recording so I do wonder if this performance will be released any time in the future. There is already a recording and DVD with her signing the role so not idea if there is a market for another one. But time will tell.

The Curtain Call

Some Tweets

Capriccio list

Ticciati excites and Maltman moves / London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 15 March 2012

16 Mar

Ah the LSO! It can deliver unimaginable riches on a random Thursday evening, like last night.

Under the baton of Robin Ticciati they sounded like a different orchestra, all lightness and bounce. Of course from my very cheap seats I could only see his legs moving about and I presume it was a very physical display from his upper body. Something one has to expect by a lean 29 year old. Clearly their very recent trip to China may have invigorated them for a sparkly homecoming.

The Strauss was utterly beautiful, the tempi reserved and being at the cheapest seats on front row, we got a real treat hearing at such proximity some gorgeous tremolos from the double basses. A shame really that that very proximity meant that we could also hear a mobile phone going off backstage which was very annoying! The all too important bursts of percussion were thunderous and mournful. It was gorgeous and a great opener to the evening.

Christopher Maltman’s Mahler was so beautiful and measured, as near as it gets to lack of ego on a big stage. His dry resonant baritonal voice was in full command of the requirements. His emotional investment all too clear to see and hear. Ticciati quote in the programme on Maltman ‘He brings a kind of lieder-esque quality in his emotional response to music…’ was spot on, he imbued colourful, suitably subdued singing with emotion and sensational beauty. This was a truly accomplished performance with great attention to the text but also with a good ear for the orchestra. Ticciati kept the volume of orchestra and voice at the same volume which gave the piece a more intimate feel in contrast to the two other items in the programme. Seeing Maltman walk past after the end with tears in his eyes was as moving as his singing. I will surely be looking forward to seeing him again in concert and opera.

The Brahms symphony was as playful as you would expect, and with the LSO in a sprightly mood it was toe tappingly beautiful and the conductor’s fast tempi really made it breeze by. The rustic sounding Allegretto was a particular highlight. A mix of incisive playing and the right amount of fluency and relaxation created the right atmosphere. Even a chap in the end of the second row managed to stay awake despite clearly his body was telling him otherwise 😉

The band was clearly happy with the loud response from the audience and we all were extremely proud of them. Now if only the in between movements breaks we were not faced with a wall of coughing, life would be even better. The LSO showed its worth once more and I hope they will be booking Ticciati many more times in the near future, as the chemistry is clearly very potent.

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Here’s the programme from the LSO’s website (PDF)

A few Tweets from the evening

Delicious Sachertorte in Westminster / Der Rosenkavalier / English National Opera – 27 February 2012

7 Mar

Ah Rosenkavalier, the most delicious torte of the lot! The usual upturned noses in the circuit will have scoffed at the idea of having it performed in English. But they shouldn’t have worried too much, this was an evening of pure decadence and pleasure.

McVicar’s set all cream walls, decorative pipped on plaster work, painted ceilings, mirrored screens and swathes of gold lamé fabric and parquet flooring. The detailing was rich enough (despite a few complaints about the use of the same set for all three locations) and the direction was fluid with attention to the action and the glorious music. After the dud Don Giovanni at Covent Garden this was a moment of musical catharsis. Add to that a cast that summed up some of the greatest British singing talent of the last 30 years and you get an idea how fantastic it was. Not bad for what is meant to be London’s second opera house that apparently can’t afford big stars.

Amanda Roocroft’s voice may have lost some of its sheen, but her stage presence is the very essence of old-fashioned glamour. Her Marschallin is charismatic and sang with so much heart, its instantly winning. Her fragility and lack of comprehension of the vanishing world she inhabits is brought out by the staging, her boudoir lavish in small details but overall it seems in need of a fresh lick of paint. Her cavorting in bed with Octavian is fun and warm, her refuge from the pretentious Viennese high society. The role fits her like a glove. Her knowing glances after she lets Octavian go and straight into the arms of Sophie was beautifully acted, as the woman who gives in to young love with an air of a lifetime’s experience.

John Tomlinson is one of the greatest names of British operatic singing. His horny Baron Ochs was fun-filled and showing off his apparent lack of sophistication. His red cheeks with the exaggerated make up added another goofy touch. His energy and enthusiasm never waned  and his particularly lecherous approach to the young Sophie on the wedding day was perfectly judged, slimy in its upper class snobbery but yet pathetic in his disregard for her feelings. Also the way he addressed the Marschallin in the first act was the look of a man who knew his place despite his bone headed arrogance.

Sophie Bevan was a deeply elegant Sophie who waded through her high notes like a fish in water. Her charm and beauty propelled her stage persona. Her falling in love with Octavian during the presentation of the rose was perfection. The wide eyed expression she sported as Connolly showed up in her splendid gleaming suit of armour was that of a woman falling in love for the first time, blinded by the magnificent sight. Awkward and overwhelmed she grew in confidence while trying to see if Octavian was feeling the same way. After her splendid turn in Castor and Pollux last winter she proved herself to be a bona fide star soprano in the making.

Sarah Connolly in her latest and maybe one of her last assumptions of the role of Octavian (she’s moving slowly into different repertoire leaving trouser roles behind) was a joy to watch and to listen to. Her acting from young louche young aristocrat to a cross dressing country maid was every bit as entertaining as it was sublime. She was radiant and in very good voice. She was the glue that held this show together. Her presentation of the rose was poised and a perfect foil for the youthful blonde charms of Sophie Bevan. A moment so perfect that the world seems to stop for a millisecond and observe the beauty. One of those performances that look effortless but yet are truly intelligent. The journey from the Marschallin’s bed chamber to the final trio was the journey to maturity through the course of true love and it’s many (sometimes hilarious) obstacles.

The production was verging on the unapologetically traditional. It’s the shock of the traditional, you may say. Thankfully an abundance of physical comedy touches added whimsy. Also the fun translation and crisp enunciation by the cast made a good ambassador for opera in English. A particular joy was in the final act when Connolly in the guise of the maid Mariandel sounded like a Victorian street urchin, all mangled consonants and flowery slang. The orchestral playing under Edward Gardner was truly spectacular, with focus and softness at perfect balance. After all, this neoclassicising confection has always had a  hint of irony under its expensive veneer. Gardner brought out the incidental humour, cheekiness and all the bitter-sweet harmonies that Strauss endowed this most self-consciously rich score of his operatic career. We left ENO with a sense of deep satisfaction and were glad to be surrounded by a much more attentive audience than in most London venues. That kept silent throughout and generously applauded in the end. I only wish I had seen it once more.

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