The thing that struck me most about the Royal Opera House’s 2018 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre is how lyrical it is. It’s not without excitement in the appropriate places, far from it, but there’s such lovely singing. Nina Stemme’s Brünnhilde is tender and poetic and the combo of Stuart Skelton and Emily Magee as the twin lovers is really good. Throw in a nuanced Wotan from John Lundgren and a typically elegant performance from Sarah Connolly as Fricka and it’s really a pleasure to listen to. Ain Anger is not so lyrical as Hunding but it’s a fine menacing performance. Antonio Pappano and the house orchestra are equally fine.
I think my best recent discovery on the web has been Wigmore Hall’s Youtube channel. There’s a wealth of material in various genres but, from my point of view, the real glory are the song recitals. I’ve seen particularly good ones from Gerry Finley and Sarah Connolly and, more recently, really well thought out programmes from Allan Clayton and Stephanie Wake-Edwards and from Ema Nikolovska. Many readers will remember her “virtual” Toronto Summer Music recital a few months ago. This one is just as good!
Vladimir Jurowski is a notable Mahler interpreter so a new recording of Mahler’s great symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde is welcome; especially when Jurowski’s own Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin is combined with soloists as fine as Sarah Connolly and Robert Dean Smith.
What one gets is some superbly lyrical and detailed orchestral playing. It doesn’t emphasise the dramatic but it’s exciting enough and “big” enough to tax the soloists in places. I’m always a bit torn about whether I prefer the majesty of Mahler’s original scoring or the greater intimacy of Schoenberg’s chamber reduction. Certainly the full orchestral version requires really top notch soloists and this recording has them. Connolly is especially good and sounds absolutely ravishing in the Abschied. She seems totally in control with delicate singing, great articulation of the text and no sense of strain. Robert Dean Smith sounds suitably ardent and is very clear though showing some signs of strain in Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde but then who doesn’t?
Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park opened last night at UoT Opera in a production by Tim Albery. It’s a really interesting show that builds up in “layers” to a very satisfying whole. The Austen novel, of course, is very self consciously a novel. There’s no pretence at “immersion”. The author is both telling the story and commenting on it for the benefit of you, the reader. Librettist Alasdair Middleton both builds on this and does a quite brilliant job of compression to bring in a condensed, and only slightly simplified, version of the story in under two hours.
The latest release on the Chandos label from Sir Andrew Davis consists of three works by Sir Arthur Bliss; The Enchantress, Meditations on a Theme by John Blow and Mary of Magdala.
The Enchantress was written for Kathleen Ferrier and premiered in 1951. The text is a free adaptation of the Second Idyll of Theocritus by playwright Henry Reed. The preface to the score tells us that:
The students of the post graduate program at UoT Opera were on show in the RBA yesterday with a show made up of staged opera excerpts curated and directed by Michael Patrick Albano. It’s right at the beginning of the academic year and these sorts of concerts are a bit of a calibration exercise for those of us who follow the progress of young singers. The starting point this year is decidedly high.
The ninth edition of Tapestry’s celebration of their back catalogue happened last night in the Ernest Balmer Studio. This year’s mentors are Jacqueline Woodley and Andrea Grant. The emerging artists are Elisabeth Boudreault, Lindsay Connolly, Brianna DeSantis, Ryan Downey, Gabrielle French, Rebecca Gray, Lauren Halász, Rachel Krehm, Brittany Rae, Anne-Marie Ramos and Jennifer Routier with pianists Qiao Yi Miao Mu and Ryoko Hou.
Yesterday’s concert in the RBA was a sneak preview of the material for a longer workshop/performance in the Ernest Balmer Studio on Saturday night. The five works involved and the background are covered in this post.
We got excerpts from all five works with Jennifer Szeto at the piano and various combinations of Suzanne Rigden, Kristin Hoff and Lindsay Connolly singing. There were also brief introductions to each piece from the creative teams. What struck me most was how different the pieces were but how they seemed to reflect regional differences in musical expectations across Canada. For example, the two works from Quebec both used extended/prepared piano with a bunch of extended vocal techniques in Margareta Jeric’s Suites d’une ville morte. Laurence Jobidon’s L’hiver attend beaucoup de moi was perhaps more conventionally lyrical but it wasn’t a sound world one hears much in Toronto (at least in opera).
Suzanne Rigden performing in the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre
A new opera by Australian Brett Dean based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet premiered at Glyndebourne this summer. A recording of it was broadcast on BBC television on 22nd October. I’ve now had a chance to watch it in full. I wasn’t sure what to expect as it get somewhat mixed reviews. I was impressed. Very impressed. First off, Matthew Jocelyn, who wrote the libretto, and Dean know how to turn a play into an opera. They understand that it’s not just about taking a bunch of dialogue and giving it a soundtrack. What they do is very clever. All the text is Shakespeare but it’s split up and moved around. There’s repetition and sometimes words are reassigned to different characters. Characters sing parallel lines. Then, of course, there’s a chorus. A good example is when the players appear before performing The Death of Gonzago. They get lines taken from various of Hamlet’s soliloquies chopped up and rearranged. It’s effective and allows the main elements of the story to be told in under three hours of opera. The main bit that’s missing is the whole Fortinbras and the Norwegians thing but that often gets cut anyway.
Just been checking out the Glyndebourne 2017 season announcement. Not that I’ll be going or anything but one production did catch my eye. There’s a new Hamlet opera from Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn to be directed by Neil Armfield and conducted by Vladimir Jurowski which sounds promising enough but look at this cast: Allan Clayton (Hamlet), Sarah Connolly (Gertrude), Barbara Hannigan (Ophelia), Rod Gilfry (Claudius), Kim Begley (Polonius), John Tomlinson (Ghost of Old Hamlet). There had better be a DVD.
Oh yes and they’ve unearthed yet another previously (more or less) unheard of Cavalli.