Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbre sets texts from Lamentations and is incredibly beautiful in a very French baroque way as well as rather bing music to cut your wrists to. There’s a new CD recording of it by English sopranos Lucy Crowe and Elizabeth Watts with La Nuova Musica directed by David Bates. It’s very fine. Both Crowe and Watts give exemplarty performances. They use minimal vibrato; just enough to create some resonance in louder passages and both have a wonderfully expressive trill. Coupled with really expressive playing from Jonathan Rees – viola da gamba, Alex McCartney – theorbo and David Bates – organ, it’s a real pleasure to listen to. Interestingly the three sections of the Leçons are separated by two trio sonatas by Sébastian de Brossard where the instrumentalists are joined by Bojan Čičić and Sabine Stoffer – violins. It works really well. The disc is rounded out by Brossard’s Stabat Mater, another rather lovely piece of Lenten dolorosity. The singers on this last are Miriam Allan, James Arthur, Nicholas Scott and Simon Wall with Jonathan Rees – viola da gamba, Judith Evans – double bass, Alex McCartney – theorbo and Silas Woolaston – organ. The recording, made in St. Augustine’s Kilburn, is clear and well balanced with an ambience that suits the music well.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland premiered at the BayerischeStaatsoper in 2007 in a production by Achim Freyer. It’s a curious work. It cleaves fairly closely to Carroll but the beginning and ending are altered to make it clear this is all a dream. In between those two short scenes we get all the familiar stuff; Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, Tea Party, Croquet Lawn, Trial etc. It’s all staged on a steeply raked stage with a sort of set of “advent calendar” openings. Lines of light are used to suggest scale changes and the characters (almost) all wear mesh masks and have puppet selves too. It’s a look that won costume designer Nina Weitzner an award. Everybody seems to be wearing an aerial wire and there’s a fair bit of flying about. It looks, on the face of it, visually inventive and psychologically convincing.
Aribert Reimann’s Lear is a pretty good example of how to create a thoroughly modern opera within a thoroughly traditional framework. It’s a classic story of course. Here librettist Claus Henneberg has taken the classic German translationof the Shakespeare play and condensed it in a highly intelligent fashion; retaining all the emotional drama while sacrificing some fairly peripheral narrative. Reimann’s score is modern though not strictly twelve tone. He creates a distinct musical voice for each character; speech/Sprechstimme for the Fool, weird coloratura for General etc. This is reinforced by many of the characters having a tone row that serves as a sort of leitmotiv. Atonality and quarter tones are used for varying effects from the violence of the Blasted Heath scene; apparently inspired by the composer’s experience, as a nine year old, of the bombing of Potsdam, to the shimmering, ethereal quarter tones of Lear’s final monologue. For anyone with even a vague tolerance for “modern” music it’s a fascinating listen.
Kasper Holten’s Royal Opera House production of Don Giovanni, seen in cinemas, is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a visually and dramatically complex production so it’s probably as well that there’s plenty of explanatory material on the disks and in the booklet. Es Devlin’s set is a two storey structure that rotates and serves as a screen for a heavy use of video projections by Luke Halls. These start wth the 2065 names of the women Don Giovanni has seduced and seem to be mostly about what’s going on in Don Giovanni’s head. The sequence during Fin ch’han dal vino calda la testa is particularly spectacular.