Posts Tagged ‘concert performance’

Prom 66, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, 4 September 2010

5 September, 2010

“Mahler’s 11th Symphony”, Rattle called the second half of this concert as he introduced it, requesting the audience not to interrupt with applause until all three works were over. The three compositions he was uniting under Mahler’s banner were Schönberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra, and Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra. The original versions of these works were composed in 1909, 1909–10, and 1913–15 respectively, bringing us from the midst of one of the most artistically creative periods in the life of Vienna, or anywhere else for that matter, to the appalling destruction of the First World War. These three compositions are not works I know well, and hearing them together in this way was a revelation. As far as I know, Rattle recorded the first two items on a CD along with Berg’s Lulu suite, played by the CBSO, but has not recorded the three works in this concert as a unit. I hope he does.

The first half of the concert — the Parsifal Prelude and the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss — was less interesting, at least for me. I bow to no one in my admiration for Rattle’s conducting, particularly of twentieth century music, but Wagner is not so much his métier and I found the prelude to Parsifal surprisingly dreary. This is music I’ve heard many times, and for me the performance lacked dramatic intensity. The Strauss was well sung by Karita Mattila, after a wobbly start, and I understand she’s giving a concert at the Wigmore Hall in a few days’ time. That venue is surely better for Lieder, but in the vast spaces of the Albert Hall her voice did not come through as well as I had hoped, though she sounded much better on the BBC recording.

Watching it on television later, I heard the announcer referring to the Berlina Philharmonica (sic). I wish the BBC would either use English pronunciation (Berlin Philharmonic) or say the German correctly (Berliner Philharmoniker), rather than falling between two stools.

Elektra, in concert with Valery Gergiev and the LSO, Barbican, January 2010

15 January, 2010

This powerful Richard Strauss opera, scored for an orchestra of over 110 instruments, has a huge dynamic range and needs singers who can rise above the orchestra. This is where Angela Denoke as Chrysothemis did wonderfully well, and I very much look forward to her singing Salome at the Royal Opera in July. Felicity Palmer as Klytemnestra showed just the right mix of uncertainty and determination in her portrayal, and the voices of the three main protagonists — Elektra, Chrysothemis, and Klytemnestra — were very well contrasted. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet as Elektra showed herself fierce and anguished, but was clearly out-sung by Angela Denoke. For example, towards the end, after Klytemnestra has been murdered and her lover Aegisthus cries out for help, Elektra sings, “Agamemnon hört dich!” (Agamemnon hears you!), but it was weak, and as he is dragged away, Chrysothemis comes in with “Elektra! Schwester! .. .” The contrast could not have been greater — Ms. Charbonnet was no match for the orchestra, but Ms. Denoke rose effortlessly above it. Matthias Goerne sang Orestes, keeping up well with Ms. Charbonnet in their duet, and Ian Storey sang Aegisthus.

But what really made this a terrific evening was the conducting by Gergiev. He gave us wonderfully melodious quiet passages, yet turned on the power when it was needed. The London Symphony Orchestra respond well to his enigmatic hand gestures, and the orchestral playing was beautifully lyrical. The name Elektra means ‘shining’ — as in the alloy electrum — and Gergiev with the LSO gave us a shining performance.

Linda di Chamounix, Royal Opera, September 2009

8 September, 2009

chamonix[1]

This late work by Donizetti was written for a Viennese audience and first performed in May 1842, then revised for Paris in November the same year. It was a great success, but its rather silly plot is now little known, so I’ll give a brief synopsis. Linda is a very pretty peasant, loved by, and in love with, an apparently impecunious artist named Carlo. Unfortunately the local Marquis has designs on Linda, and her father Antonio is dependent on him for the renewal of their lease. To add to the complication, Carlo is the nephew of the Marquis, a fact hidden from everyone. But before things can come to a head, the young men arrange to go to Paris to perform as street entertainers during the winter months when there is no work, and the local Prefect persuades Linda’s father that she should go with them to keep out of the Marquis’s clutches. Carlo follows her, reveals his true identity, and in Paris sets up a stylish home with her. Carlo’s mother hears of it and makes immediate arrangements for her son to marry a member of the aristocracy. In the meantime, the Marquis visits to persuade Linda to leave with him, but is firmly rebuffed. Then Antonio visits seeking help, and when faced with his daughter, living in luxury, he disowns her. Now comes news of Carlo’s forthcoming marriage, and Linda goes mad. Unlike Lucia di Lammermoor however, this all ends happily. Linda returns to Chamounix with her friend, the orphan Pierotto, and is cured by the sound of music, first from Pierotto, then from Carlo, who sings the words they shared when they first met. The whole village then rejoices in anticipation of their wedding. Rather like Act I of Giselle in reverse.

This was a concert performance, brilliantly conducted by Mark Elder, and the cast, headed by Elise Gutierrez as Linda, and Stephen Costello as a gloriously voiced Carlo, was excellent. The father and mother, Antonio and Maddalena were strongly sung by Ludovic Tezier and Elizabeth Sikora, with Balint Szabo singing a firm bass as the Prefect, and Marianna Pizzolato in the contralto part of Pierotto. But the star of the show for me was Alessandro Corbelli as the Marquis. His voice expressed so well the pomposity of the role, and even his entrances and exits were comic masterpieces. He and the young American, Stephen Costello, who was making his debut at Covent Garden, were a delight to watch with their body language helping to express their feelings, even in this concert performance.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that the stage was beautifully lit for the orchestra and chorus, and the dimmed lighting of the auditorium added to the effect, with the dome lit in blue from two lights in the orchestra pit. A very attractive ‘production’, even if it was merely a concert, and I would gladly see more unusual operas like this. An excellent start to the new season for the Royal Opera House.