Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress at ENO
8 November 2012, London, UK
Riot of colour: the Vanity Fair scene in ENO's staging of 'The Pilgrim's Progress'(Photo: Mike Hoban)
A sense of adventure lies at the heart of English National Opera’s programming in its current season. The company’s latest offering is a real rarity: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress. Based on John Bunyan’s allegorical novel, the work premiered in 1951 at the Festival of Britain and hasn’t had a professional staging since. It needs huge resources, with 41 solo roles and large choral and orchestra forces that only a true ensemble company such as ENO can muster.
ENO’s production shows that Pilgrim’s Progress is an important and underrated addition to the English operatic canon. The swirling, luminous score is full of episodes that are quintessential Vaughan Williams – think of The Lark Ascending combined with the Mass in G minor to get a flavour of the music.
At ENO, Japanese director Yoshi Oïda (who worked with Peter Brooks’ theatre in Paris) approached the work with great respect and reverence. Vaughan Williams didn’t think of Pilgrim’s Progress as an opera – more an introspective musing on life and death. Oïda’s measured, ritualistic pacing and Tom Schenk’s austere prison setting reflect the rigorous moral framework of the piece. It can feel more like an extended church service than an opera: some sections are movingly meditative, but there are episodes that oppress you with their worthy piety, while others sweep you up in a sense of spiritual rapture.
Sue Willmington went to town on the costumes for the Vanity Fair scene – a rude riot of circus colour in an otherwise sober world. The monster Apollyon was an especially impressive creation, fashioned out of ragged odds and ends.
There was some very fine singing, especially from Roland Wood as a steadfast, serious Pilgrim. ENO used the large cast as an opportunity to showcase some excellent young talent: Kitty Whately, Alexander Sprague, Aiofe O’Sullivan and George von Bergen were particularly notable in the plethora of solo roles for a generation of operatic debutants. ENO’s orchestra were the heroes of occasion, with inspiring, sonorous playing under the unflinching baton of Martyn Brabbins.
Monday night saw the opening of this hugely anticipated new production at ENO which runs at the Coliseum in London until 28 November. Here is a round-up of what the press have said so far...
‘A performance that shines like a beacon in the night’
Daily Telegraph ****
‘This is ENO back at their best’
‘Musically it’s a triumph’
‘The stagecraft is wonderfully expert’
‘The singing is good and Martyn Brabbins’s orchestra is silky smooth’
‘The orchestra and chorus make it seem sumptuous’
‘Martyn Brabbins’s exemplary musical direction... the orchestra plays beautifully’
‘Roland Wood... a solo performance of such warmth and richness’
Picasso inspires new Dublin Carmen
6 November 2012, Dublin, Ireland
Irish soprano Celine Byrne
International Leisure and Arts, Ireland's foremost producer of international ballet, have announced their move into opera with a new production of Carmen by the Moscow State Opera – coming to Dublin in March 2013.
Directed by George Isaakian, who recently won Russia’s prestigious ‘Golden Mask’ award for the third time, the production will also be the first opera ever presented in cooperation with the Picasso Foundation. ‘The set designs will incorporate some of Picasso's paintings, dedicated to Spain and the bullfight, and for the first time Carmen will be visualised through Picasso's masterpieces,’ explained Simon Walton of ILA.
A further treat for Dublin audiences will be the opportunity to hear Ireland's leading soprano Celine Byrne in the role of Michaela, alongside star soloists from some of Moscow’s top opera theatres.
Carmen opens at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin on 13 March 2013. Visit www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie for further details and bookings.
Hans Werner Henze dies aged 86
5 November 2012
Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012)(Photo courtesy of Music Sales)
The composer Hans Werner Henze has died in Dresden, aged 86. A musical giant of the postwar era, Henze was a prolific writer for the stage: he penned more than two dozen operas over a 60-year period, maintaining a regular rate of roughly one opera every two-and-a-half years right up until 2010.
A deeply political thinker who had been heavily shaped by his experiences of Nazi Germany and the Second World War, Henze was an adherent of left-wing ideologies throughout his life. This informed his choice of texts and subjects for the stage, as well as his decision to leave postwar Germany for Italy shortly after the success of Boulevard Solitude in 1952 – a reworking of the Manon Lescaut story that remains one of his most popular operas. Other modern classics to emerge from this early phase of Henze’s career include two works with English libretti by W H Auden and Chester Kallmann: Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and The Bassarids (1966), the latter a widely admired exploration of the conflict between human rationality and unbridled passion that unfolds in a single act lasting two hours.
Despite these successes, however, Henze increasingly felt his own musical and political path diverging from the ideologies that dominated avant-garde European culture. He became an isolated voice after openly associating with the student riots of 1968, making two visits to Cuba and experimenting with other theatrical forms, such as his musical La Cubana (1973).
From the mid-1970s onwards, Henze began a new and important creative association with the English playwright Edward Bond, which led to several commissions for Covent Garden including We Come to the River (1976), Orpheus (1979), and The English Cat (1983, revised 1990). Henze’s return to writing opera in German was also spurred by a new creative relationship, this time with the poet Hans-Ulrich Treichel, his librettist for Das Verratene Meer (The Ocean Betrayed, 1990) and Venus und Adonis (1997).
The composer announced in 2003 that L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe would be his last opera, but over the next seven years felt moved to write two further works including a ‘concert opera’ inspired by the Greek myth of Phaedra. In a curious echo of Britten’s late cantata, its transcendental but inconclusive ending offers an old man’s valedictory perspective on the nature of existence: ‘We are all born naked. We press towards mortality and dance…’
- Hans Werner Henze, composer, born 1 July 1926; died 27 October 2012
Sir Thomas Allen’s new Magic Flute opens in Glasgow
22 October 2012, Glasgow, Scotland
Pamina (Laura Mitchell) cowers at the feet of the Queen of the Night (Mari Moriya)(Photo: KK Dundas)
Review by Neil Jones
In this new Scottish Opera production of The Magic Flute directed by Sir Thomas Allen, Sarastro’s temple and his followers had a decidedly Industrial Revolution feel, complete with smoke, leather- and helmet-clad workers, and supervisors and managers in frock coats and top hats.
Simon Higlett’s curving set of wheeled metal spiral staircases and balconies was as busy as it was intriguing. Rolling back and forth throughout the opera to reveal sliding doors at the rear, it was from here that the first monster and later the Queen of the Night emerged, spectacularly costumed in an illuminated dress and enormous black cloak.
The Queen’s singing, delivered by the diminutive Japanese soprano Mari Moriya, was no less spectacular. Moriya’s effortless top F in ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was the very least of her simply electrifying performance.
Indeed, with one exception, the singing of the leading protagonists was very strong. Nicky Spence was a believable Tamino, Laura Mitchell demonstrated a convincing fragility as Pamina whilst Claire Watkins, Rachel Hynes and Louise Collett were suitably gruesome as First, Second and Third Lady respectively.
Richard Burchard was brilliant as Papageno with Ruth Jenkins delightful in her all-too-short appearances as Papagena. Jonathan Best was commanding as Sarastro although he struggled to meet the demands of the lower notes in Mozart’s score.
The real star of the show though was the extraordinarily witty translation by Kit Hesketh-Harvey.
ON TOUR Aberdeen, His Majesty's Theatre: 1, 3 Nov; Inverness, Eden Court Theatre: 7, 10 Nov; Edinburgh, Festival Theatre: 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 Nov; Belfast, Grand Opera House: 29 Nov, 1 Dec
WNO announces 'British Firsts' series
15 October 2012, London, UK
Philanthropist and composer Gordon Getty(Photo: Emily Polar)
Welsh National Opera has announced a new series of contemporary operas over the next five years, all of which will be performed in the UK for the first time. The British Firsts series, which has been made possible by a gift of US$2 million from the Getty family, will include a staging of Gordon Getty’s Usher House directed by WNO’s general director David Pountney.
This decision to stage Getty’s opera has been questioned by critics, who suggest that WNO’s main motivation could be financial rather than artistic. On the contrary, says Pountney, ‘the whole thing started the other way round, when conductor Larry Foster rang me up and said “come and hear this work, it's a really special work”.’
The series will also include the UK staged premiere of Wagner Dream by Jonathan Harvey and Robert Orledge’s completed version of Debussy’s unfinished one-act opera The Fall of the House of Usher, which will be presented in an Edgar Allan Poe double bill with Getty’s Usher House.
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