Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Bryn Terfel retires his Don Giovanni

Bryn Terfel has declared that the Verbier Festival concert performance of Don Giovanni which he gave yesterday will be his last in that role. It is an extraordinary virtuoso-charismatic performance which you can watch on medici.tv, the online streaming performance 'channel'. Terfel says that he prefers to do Leporello, which 'is more fun, really'.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Fairy Queen at Glyndebourne



An overwhelming and, amazingly, coherent production of this opulent semi-opera sprawl. The Fairy Opera is A Midsummer Night's Dream with illuminating musical interludes - masques - interpolated. These are sung by a small cast alien to the play and the chorus is joined by a dance troupe (making this the second GFO production with a significant dance investment, alongside Guilio Cesare). The singing is good. Carolyn Sampson's often reflective character stands out where the more narrative voices of Lucy Crowe, Ed Lyon and Andrew Foster-Williams seem entirely in control of the staging blancmange going on around them.

Blancmange? How about sherry trifle prepared in a paddling pool. Even by Glyndebourne's standards, this production of The Fairy Queen is opulent. Each change of scene ushers in what seems to be a completely new set. The most striking sequence of the evening lasts little longer than two minutes in which the entire cast come on stage in full rabbit costume to fornicate and then run off again. Interestingly, one could argue that a money-no-object approach to producing this piece is period practice, given that such a tableau-work would have been created with exactly this treatment in mind. It's an overwhelming experience in many ways and some take care of the 'not all'.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Amour de Loin - Saariaho at ENO

Well, I broadly agree with Ruper Christansen in The Telegraph:
If what you want from opera is the equivalent of a warm bath filled with scented bubbles...
as well as Andrew Clements in The Guardian:
... the evening remains desperately uninvolving.
With slightly more detail I'm best allied with Edward Seckerson in The Indie. He's prepared to recommend the show to the Classic FMers in the same way that Christiansen does - "If two hours in a floatation tank is your idea of heaven, then this is for you." - but does the piece the service of trying to actually get a grip on it too.

He has two interesting points. Firstly, one that eluded me, was that
"love from afar"... has some resonance with the internet generation... in endorsing the idea that distance (or anonymity) really does lend enchantment, promoting safety in fantasy.
This is the romance at the heart of the opera's appeal, exacerbated by the principals' inability to actually connect with one another, as each character is played in triplicate, dancers shadowing the singer. This act in itself has interesting potential and is terribly confused over the span of the opera. It just hadn't quite been sufficiently thought through.

The second is that of the nebulous spiritual - in fact, religious - gravitational pull of the text. With a pair of lovers drifting together on the basis of hearsay there is a lot of store put by fatalism, the idea of destiny. Rather weakly, Amin Maalouf's text all too easily slips into their assumption of some sort of divine scriptwriter who has decreed their union. This half-baked idea is taken up in Clémence's abject rant as the piece closes.

It's a great shame. There's an opera just waiting to burst forth from the third character, a sort of go-between for the lovers who is also a pilgrim; this character is never some sort of Olympian seer, removed from the (chaste) passion by piety but rather the all too human messenger-to-be-shot. I'm really sorry to say that this potential seems to emerge because of the weakness of the writing/staging than as the intention of the composers, something that is also apparent in Clémence's final peroration. It's just (buzz) words for Saariaho to wind sound around rather than something to pique the interest of the audience. It is not insignificant that during the curtain call the one production member so caught up in congratulating the (deserving) performers to the detriment of the patient audience was Maalouf.