Walter Hall at lunchtime today saw the annual recital for the winners of the Norcop Prize in song and the Williams Koldofsky Prize in Accompanying. The winners this year were baritone Korin Thomas-Smith and pianist Joy Lee. It was a very well constructed recital. It was all English language and consisted of three sets of highly contrasted moods.
Yes subtitles can be a bit dodgy but the one above is actually from a very good PBS segment on Eric Owens. You can see it here. Or you can just enjoy this snap of him with two lovely ladies on the opening night of Hercules at the COC a little while ago.
Averse as I have become to the Met’s HD broadcasts the lure of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin in a new production by Robert Lepage proved too strong. I’m glad I went. In fact this was probably the best Live in HD broadcast that I’ve seen. Lepage’s production is magical and absolutely at one with the libretto and the score. It’s deceptive simplicity mirrors the same qualities in both. Basically we are face with bands of light (32000 LEDs) across the stage which change colour as required and provide an ethereal shimmering backdrop. The chorus, rarely more than their heads or hands or both, appear in tight ranks from among the lights. There’s a sort of swivelling gantry with a platform at each end that configures to be the various settings for Jaufré and Clémence and there is the Pilgrim and his/her boat. Simple, configurable, effective and very, very beautiful. Indeed, Lepage and his team at the top of their game.
The story line for Bellini’s opera I Capuletti e I Montecchi will be familiar enough though it’s very condensed and based on the earlier source by Bandello rather than Shakespeare’s more elaborate reworking. So, lots of feuding but no back story, no balcony scene, no friar’s cell. But (spoiler alert) the ending is the same. Vincent Broussard’s production, originally from Munich but filmed in San Francisco in 2012, sets the work around the time of its composition and seems at times to reference that it was composed for the Venice Carnivale. It also veers around between being quite literal and trying to make the story something going on in Romeo’s head. The production is quite influenced visually by the fact that the costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix and it’s unclear whether he’s trying to support the production concept or promote his brand.
It’s forty years since Sir Andrew Davis first conducted the TSO and to celebrate the fact the TSO programmed a run of Verdi Requiems with Sir Andrew conducting. I caught the last performance last night. It’s in some ways a curious piece; very operatic and not especially liturgical but it does have its subtleties; the very quiet opening and the tenor solo Ingemisco for example but there’s also some moments of drama that are far from subtle. The Dies irae is appropriately loud, even terrifying and it’s used as an accent before the Lacrymosa and during the Libera me. It’s quite a compelling 90 minutes or so.
Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess has a really interesting history. It was always intended as a “grand opera”; pretty much the first American one. It was written for the Metropolitan Opera but not performed there until 1985 and between it’s Boston debut in 1935 and a production in Houston in 1976 it was virtually always performed in a much cut edition designed for Broadway. In fact by the time of the Houston production it was being done much at all; being seen as dated and dealing with issues of race that were particularly highly charged in Civil Rights Era America. It took a bold, young Deneral Manager, David Gockley, and a Gershwin enthusiast, John DeMain, to recreate an opera rather than a musical. It’s been following them round ever since and so, not very surprisingly, Gockley, now in charge in San Francisco, chose to stage it there last year in a new production by Francesca Zambello with DeMain conducting.
Back to the Four Seasons Centre last night for a second look at Peter Sellars’ production of Handel’s Hercules. This time we were sitting lower down in the house, in the front, left of the orchestra ring. As predicted the set wasn’t as effective as when seen from higher up but in some ways the lighting effects were more successful. Given the house’s acoustic properties favour the rings I’d say this is definitely one to see from somewhere other than the orchestra.
What did I particularly notice compared to opening night? First off, Richard Croft. I think I was so wrapped up in Lucy Crowe and Eric Owen’s singing the first time around that I almost failed to notice what a fine performance he gave. His voice is very mature for a tenor now but he’s a terrific interpreter of text and has flawless technique. His intensity remains remarkable. And the schtick with the crutches? It turns out he recently had hip surgery.
There’s a unit set; some marble flags, a few broken columns surrounding a “fire pit”. Even this is stripped down for much of Act 2 which takes place on the stage apron in front of a plain curtain. There are five singers, a chorus and an orchestra. That, plus Peter Sellars, is all it takes to produce an extraordinary piece of music drama.
I really had intended to write up the COC’s new production of Handel’s Hercules tonight. But the best laid plans etc were subverted by the lovely Sasha Djihanian dragging me off to the after party. There will be a proper review in the morning but, if you are smart (and don’t already have tickets) you won’t wait and will go buy some before they sell out.
To tide you over here’s Hercules himself (aka Eric Owens) flanked by Sasha and Rihab Chaieb.
I’ve watched John Adams’ DoctorAtomic three times now. The first time; a MetHD broadcast, I wasn’t impressed at all. The second time; an AVI rip of the Dutch television broadcast, I started to come around. Having now watched the Opus Arte DVD based on the Dutch TV broadcasts I’m converted. This piece is every bit as good as Nixon in China and probably surpasses it in emotional impact due to the more visceral nature of the material. The orchestral writing is classic Adams. The musical argument is swept along on a strong rhythmic pulse and overlapping waves of colour. In contrast the vocal line often seems duller though there are passages of great lyricism, notably Oppenheimer’s big Act 1 aria Batter my heart, three personed God. Kitty Oppenheimer and the native woman, Pasqualita, also get some good singing. I also found myself warming to the libretto. Some rather self conscious passages of Donne and Baudelaire aside, it lacks the poetry of Goodman’s libretti for Adams but Peter Sellars’ selection of words taken from the documentary record is, in its way, quite compelling; reflecting the mix of high and banal concerns that people under great tension express. It’s particularly interesting to see the relatively high level of respect for and confidence in the moral judgement of politicians displayed by the scientists. One doubts whether that would be the case today. In total, it’s a strong additiion to the repertoire of 21st century operas.
Gerald Finley (Oppenheimer) and Richard Fink (Teller) do physics