Krzysztof Meyer’s Cyberiada receives rare staging in Poznań
28 May 2013, Poznań, Poland
'Cyberiada' at Poznan’s Teatr Wielki(Photo: K Zalewska)
Review by Karyl Charna Lynn
Based on short stories by the Polish writer Stanisław Lem, Cyberiada (The Cyberiad) is an allegorical dark comedy with serious overtones, dealing with the evils of totalitarianism, oppression, greed, deception, sexual addiction and the mysteries of life.
Using a story-within-a-story format, the opera fuses the science fiction idea of space travel with a pseudo-Medieval world populated by kings, queens, witches, knights and obedient subjects encased in identical multi-coloured boxes. A fiery red-haired inventor called Trull journeys from planet to planet building machines, which narrate three different allegorical tales symbolized by huge suspended masks.
Conceived as a Theatre of the Absurd by director Ran Arthur Braun and designer Justin Arienti, this precisely-executed production unfolded on a stage dominated by five huge batteries of percussion located on two levels. Each group incorporated 12 different instruments, which in turn produced 60 different types of sounds and noises (noise being as integral a part of the opera as the musical tones). The percussionists were dressed as astronauts and a parade of characters in over-the-top costumes acted with exaggerated and stilted mannerisms, parodying societal roles.
From breath-taking acrobatics, including two red-clad ballerinas pantomiming erotic dreams for King Zipperupus, to the finale in which Trull killed a clone of himself, the opera was simultaneously amusing and thought-provoking. Although composed during the 1960s, the final message touched on 21st century technology: nothing is eternal, not even machines.
The music included serial, sonoristic and aleatoric techniques, resulting in a work with unconventional sounds and vocal lines almost devoid of melody, harmony or rhythm in the traditional sense. Instead, the action and feelings of the characters were expressed through a unique soundscape combining jazz, repeated chords, sound clusters and grotesque elements. Extensive sections of spoken dialogue were delivered melodically, ranging from rhythmical recitation to story-telling.
The singers, acrobats, dancers, chorus and orchestra of Poznań’s Teatr Wielki under maestro Krzysztof Słowiński did a superb job in keeping the complex elements of the work together, offering a worthwhile and admirable execution of this multi-faceted opera.
RPS Award winners announced in London
15 May 2013, London, UK
Sarah Connolly, winner of the 2013 RPS Award for Singer(Photo: Simon Jay Price)
Opera put in a strong showing at this year’s Royal Philharmonic Society Awards in London, with a total of four categories bagged by leading lights from the UK opera sector.
Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly took the Award for Singer, with Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest named as best large-scale composition. Three events that formed part of last summer’s Cultural Olympiad were also amongst the winners, including Birmingham Opera Company’s staging of Mittwoch aus Licht by Stockhausen, and the North Lincolnshire community opera Cycle Song about former Olympic cyclist Albert White.
RPS Chairman, John Gilhooly, opened proceedings with a celebratory but also hard-hitting speech, in which he hailed 2012 as ‘an extraordinary year for live classical music in the UK … despite a difficult political and economic climate’.
Referring to the recent call by UK Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller, that arts organisations should ‘hammer home the value of culture to our economy’, Gilhooly said: ‘Making money never has, and never should be, the driving force for great art. Whilst mindful of the absolute need to unite with the government and funders in framing the positive economic arguments for expenditure on the arts, I want to make a direct plea to Maria Miller and the government: please let’s not allow creativity, vision, excellence, enjoyment and culture’s potential to change lives to be lost in the debate, even in times of austerity.’
Die Zauberflöte at London’s Royal Opera House
10 May 2013, London, UK
Albina Shagimuratova as Covent Garden's showstopping Queen of the Night(Photo: Mike Hoban)
Review by Luis Dias
As someone visiting the UK from India after a gap of five years, I was struck by the richness of London’s cultural life, especially when it comes to classical music. The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, is undoubtedly the jewel in this cultural crown.
So it felt especially good to be back there, for a shining performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Lavish productions like these are impossible to come by in India, perhaps understandably so. I was watching the audience reaction and some people were obviously ‘regulars’, but there were also others like me, for whom every moment of the visual spectacle and glorious music were being savoured hungrily, greedily.
Albina Shagimuratova was very convincing as the Queen of the Night, and her showpiece aria ‘Der Hölle Rache’ was perhaps the highlight of the evening, getting several rounds of well-deserved applause. Bass Matthew Rose made a similarly riveting Sarastro, looking and sounding every inch the evil sorcerer/enlightened sovereign. His ‘O Isis und Osiris’ was particularly outstanding.
Simon Keenlyside also stood out as Papageno, not merely for his smooth vocal delivery and gorgeous voice, but for his easy, almost natural command of this ‘strictly-for-the-birds’ role. His Papagena, Susana Gaspar, was vivacious, funny, and their ‘Pa … pa … pa …’ duet crackled with mirth and wit.
Supporting this top-notch cast, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House sounded spectacular under conductor Julia Jones, whose brisk tempi kept energy levels high.
Dr Luis Dias is a musician and writer who recently returned to India after a decade working in the UK. Visit his blog for more details: http://luisdias.wordpress.com
Kaufmann triumphs as Don Carlo at Covent Garden
7 May 2013, London, UK
Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlo with Anja Harteros as Elizabeth de Valois(Photo: Catherine Ashmore)
Review by Francis Muzzu
Lucky the audience that attended the opening night of this revival. Let’s gloss over Nicholas Hytner’s patchy and unattractive production, for this was a musical feast, not least for Antonio Pappano’s vibrant and idiomatic conducting and the strong orchestral and choral work.
Jonas Kaufmann’s Carlo started slightly hesitantly but soon gained focus, his tone burnished and rich. He blended perfectly with Mariusz Kwiecień’s Rodrigo, also elegantly sung and a far warmer personality than we usually see in this role. Likewise Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Filippo emphasised the character’s humanity and loneliness with a large-scale performance and his cavernous bass remains undimmed, likewise his stage presence.
Béatrice Uria-Monzon looked suitably gorgeous as Eboli but her high-lying and tangy mezzo was slightly over-parted in this house. Perhaps best of all was Anja Harteros, whose elegance of person and voice, impeccable musicality and technique combined with sumptuous tone to create an Elizabeth de Valois that may remain peerless for many. She has created a potentially legendary assumption with just one London performance, for alas she cancelled all further showings (some announced well in advance, some not). Let’s hope that this was not an inadvertent farewell to the house, at which apparently she has no further appearances planned.
Conductor Sir Colin Davis dies aged 85
18 April 2013, London, UK
Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013)
Sir Colin Davis, who died on 14 April aged 85, was one of the leading lights of the British music scene in the latter half of the 20th century. Opera formed a significant part of his career, especially during the 15 years, from 1971 to 1986, which he spent as music director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The son of a bank clerk, his family background was not especially musical, though his own talents emerged relatively early. He trained as a clarinettist and was barred from studying conducting at the Royal College of Music, since he had not learnt the piano – a requisite for would-be conductors at the time. Later, when he had established a successful career, he commented that ‘conducting has more to do with singing and breathing than with piano-playing.’
The frustrations of his early career did not deter him: in 1959, he stepped in to conduct a concert performance of Don Giovanni at the Royal Festival Hall for an indisposed Otto Klemperer and from then on his career seemed to be on an exponential path to greatness. He was invited to become music director of Sadler’s Wells Opera in 1961, championing the operas of Stravinsky and continuing to develop his tremendous affinity for Mozart, whose music, he said, expressed ‘something that is more than human’.
It was around this time that his 15-year marriage to the soprano April Cantelo broke down and that Sir Colin began to gain a reputation in the industry as being ‘unbalanced’ and ‘difficult’. Sir Colin himself admitted that he was apt to be ‘a bit hard and tactless’. He found himself blocked from key posts, such as the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Opera House
His second marriage to Ashraf Naini marked a new beginning for Sir Colin, underlined by a new philosophy of life which perhaps made him less driven, but more congenial as a musical collaborator.
When the Royal Opera House eventually offered him the job of musical director in 1971, he accepted in the face of backstage whispers that some on the Opera House board considered him to be an unworthy successor to Sir Georg Solti. This was in spite of the credentials that he had already set down at Covent Garden following his conducting of Berlioz’s epic Les troyens and the world premiere of Tippett’s The Knot Garden. Sir John Tooley, the ROH’s chief executive at the time, recalls ‘Colin’s early days as music director at the Royal Opera House were not easy for him, as they had not been for his predecessor. There were some doubts that he could deliver and that he could begin to match some of the world’s greatest conductors. In all of this, the doubters were proved to be wrong.’ During this period, he famously booed back and stuck out his tongue at ROH audiences who were vocal in their disenchantment.
As Sir Colin expanded his repertoire at the ROH, his combination of wide-ranging erudition and passionate musicality came to be recongised and admired. One of his biggest challenges was a controversial production of Wagner’s Ring cycle which unfolded between 1973 to 1976. Götz Friedrich’s conceptual production was problematic for British audiences, but Sir Colin became one of its fiercest advocates once he was convinced of its artistic and intellectual integrity.
The conductor once said ‘the road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same. After his early difficulties, his time at the ROH marked a period where his reputation was finally established and his own equilibrium as a musician was restored after a period of instability. He was knighted in 1980, appointed Companion of Honour in 2002 and awarded the Queen's Medal for music in 2009
Following his departure from the ROH in 1986, Sir Colin’s career continued to expand internationally, entering its final and perhaps most illustrious phase when he was appointed music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. His operatic work with the LSO showed off his experience and grasp of different styles, championing contemporary work and continuing to bring new resonance to the classics: especially memorable during his time with the LSO were his Peter Grimes and Verdi’s Falstaff, both available on disc.
- Sir Colin Davis, conductor: born 25 September 1927, died 14 April 2013
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