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Following on from Saturday's Handel excerpt, here's Cleopatra's aria Da Tempeste from Guilio Cesare — according to libretto, the queen has been freed from her imprisonment and is anticipating victory over her brother Tolomeo. Once again the performers are Apollo's Fire and Amanda Forsythe.

As with the aria from Alcina, the trills and ornaments in the da capo repeat are absolutely astonishing.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A not very good photo of PG dressed as Captain Corcoran for his part in a lunchtime production of HMS Pinafore:

PG as Captain Corcoran
sawyl: (A self portrait)
For all that the plot is completely absurd Mozart's Die Zauberflöte is still quite wonderful, especially when it's performed as well as it is here — Simon Keenlyside is superb as Papageno and the pheasant is pretty wonderful.


Aug. 26th, 2013 08:01 pm
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I think I've finally reached the point where I'm actually starting to get Parsifal. And last night's excellent performance from the Hallé and Mark Elder certainly helped. The cast was fantastic, especially Katarina Dalayman and Tom Fox, and the choruses were amazing in the slow, final closing moments.

The whole thing was so good that despite listening to the whole thing last night, I spent today listening to the whole thing again on iPlayer, and I reserve the right to it again before it disappears...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
In Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312, whenever the Mecurial & mecurial Swan Er Hong takes the Quito space elevator up to orbit, she participates in what seems to be a continual performance of Philip Glass' opera Satyagraha. Significantly, the Saturnine and saturnine Fitz Wahram, whose temprament would seem to be more in keeping with the repetative minimalism of Glass is actually obsessed with Beethoven.

Both choices, I think, are intended to give us important insights into the core emotions of the characters: Swan's passion for justice, her activism, and touches her love of long, bird-like, swooping lines; Wahram's desire for the structure of sonata form or the grosse fugue, shows his love of inprovisation within a framework, while the choice of Beethoven indicates his deep streak of Romantic radicalism.

OK, this isn't Satyagraha, because it's not really possible to extract a bleeding chunk; instead it's The Window of Appearances scene from Akhnaten:

The performance, from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, features Nicholas Tamagna as Akhnaten, Olivia Savage as Queen Tye, and Sarah Ballman as Nefertit and the whole thing can be streamedd from the university's web site...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
For no terribly good reason, other than being woken up by the slava movement of Rachmaninov's Six Morceaux, here is the Holy Fool's confrontation with the Tsar from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov from the Met's production in 2010:

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Enjoyed the Beebs broadcast of Placido Domingo and various past Operalia winners at the RoH. Verismo not really being my thing, I encountered a couple of interesting surprises. I enjoyed the Great Man's performance of Nemico della patria from Giordano's Andrea Chénier thanks, I suspect, to the brilliance of the performer and my lack of familiarity with the piece. Likewise Sonya Yoncheva's performance of Depuis le jour from Gustave Charpentier's Louise seemed delightful for much the same reasons, but I'm not sure I've got much long-term interest in it.

Of the rest, the two pieces that really stood out for me were Nina Stemme's ecstatic and intense take on Dich, teure Halle from Tannhäuser and Julia Novikova's truly astonishing coloratura in one of Amina's arias from Bellini's La sonnambula. Each, in their own way, more than knocked the ball out of the park.

ETA: I've discovered a copy of the German broadcast on YouTube!

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I've spent my day shamelessly wallowing the in delights of Covent Garden's Ring Cycle, courtesy of R3's recent broadcasts. I've discovered excerpts of the Boulez and Chéreau Ring from Bayreuth, which bring back fond childhood memories of the days when they used to be broadcast on BBC2. I've even found the bit of staging that fascinated me 30 years ago and has stuck in my head ever since: the pendulum that dominates the second act of Die Walküre.

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This is just the bee's knee: the Copenhagen production of Handel's Giulio Cesare from 2005, with Andreas Scholl as Caesar and Inger Dam-Jensen as Cleopatra.


May. 7th, 2012 09:31 pm
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Currently going through a serious Handelian phase, I've been listing to a lot of the operas on YouTube. Today I made it to Alcina and this wonderful performance from Stuttgart in 1999:

There aren't subtitles — not a great loss considering the incomprehensibility of the plot, based on Orlando Furioso — and it's a bit hard to which character is which at the very beginning — and the cross-dressing doesn't exactly help! — but its seriously enjoyable for all that...

ETA: this makes a lot more sense now that I've used wikipedia to mug up on the characters and the (somewhat ludicrous) plot.
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I always forget just how wonderful Nixon in China really is, especially the dazzling opening when the Spirit of 76 lands and Nixon sings News has a kind of mystery on the tarmac:

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Enjoyable evening of opera in aid of the restoration of Poltimore House. Arriving slightly early after a minor miscalculation, we got a chance to potter round in the drizzle and check out the rather dilapidated state of the house — clad in a large, industrial-looking emergency roof cover, the overall effect was of something akin to a Combine citadel. Initially unable to locate the venue, we followed the ghostly sounds of Puccini coming from one of the windows and traced the event to the entrance hall of the main house.

The music covered quite a wide range, running all the way from Monteverdi to Puccini, with some interesting lesser known pieces in between — I can't say I was familiar with Cherubini's Demofoonte before this evening — along with some staples from Mozart, Bizet and Gounod. The evening was concluded with a handful of scenes from Don Giovanni, including Questo è il fin — surely one of the best operatic ensembles of all time! — to close.
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R3 are currently running a Genius of Mozart season, playing every note over the first 12 day of the new year. My feelings are mixed. I'm not greatly taken with the symphonies and many of the chamber works leave me cold, but when it comes to opera I think Mozart is pretty much untouchable and The Marriage of Figaro might just be the finest opera every written.

So here's a slightly fuzzy video of the septet that ends Act 2, featuring, amongst others, Alison Hagley and Bryn Terfel, with the English Baroque Soloists conducted by John Eliot Gardiner.

Now that I think about it, I've got this recording on CD. Along with Vittorio Gui's Glyndebourne recording from '55. Because you can never have too many versions of Figaro...
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The first act of John Adams opera Doctor Atomic closes with Robert Oppenheimer alone on the eve of the Trinity test. Beset by doubts, Oppie recalls the words of John Donne's holy sonnet Batter My Heart:

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Another proms opera, this time the RoH's production of Simon Boccanegra with the same stellar cast as last week. The performance was every bit as good as the last one but, having mugged up on the piece and its libretto since watching it last week on BBC4, I felt like I got more out of it.

The performance also featured a rather wonderful interval piece on the opera which managed to be both interesting and wryly funny. Roger Parker was on particularly fine form. He described Verdi's conservatism as increasing in proportion to the amount of land he owned and described Verdi as having a teflon political reputation. He described Boccanegra as a monster, but added that because he had the perspicacity to carry out all his misdeeds in the 25 years gap between the end of the prologue and the start of act I, the audience is shielded from this knowledge and can still feel sympathy for him when he struggles to come to terms with the restoration of his lost daughter...
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I enjoyed WNO's production of Die Meistersinger every bit as much as expected. The singing was excellent throughout. Bryn Terfel was as good as promised as Sachs, but the rest of the cast were more than upto the challenge and he didn't put them in the shade — I particularly liked Amanda Roocroft's Eva and Christopher Purves' duplicitous Beckmesser.

For once, I felt that reality actually lived up to the hyperbole.
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Struck down by an appalling headache which wrote off most of the day, I rallied in time to watch the RoH's Simon Boccanegra on BBC2. The unique selling point of the performance was a chance to hear Placido Domingo tackling the baritone role of Simon. Fortunately he was rather good — I don't know the opera well enough to quibble over the music, but he really sold the great emotional moments. But it wasn't just Domingo's show. Both Ferruccio Furlanetto and Marina Poplavskaya, both of whom I enjoyed in last year's Don Carlos, were on good form, while Joseph Calleja was absolutely cracking as Adorno.

Even the BBC's production was enjoyable. Rather than cutting straight from scene to scene, they left the cameras running behind the curtains, capturing the frantic activity as the stage hands changes the props. And instead of linking the acts with a presenter front out house outlining the plot, they had short sections where Antonio Pappano introduced the action. Most of these were pre-recorded, but the final post-performance comments from Pappano were clearly done live — the woman behind him was clearly itching to push him on stage to take his call with the rest of the cast...
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I've noticed that one of the great delights of The Sixteen's Handel Prom, Carolyn Sampson's arias from Semele, have made in on to YouTube. Despite being tempted by Endless Pleasure, I've decided to go with Myself I Shall Adore, just because it's so much fun:

(As an aside, this reminds me of my profound disagreement with P.D. James about a one of the musical elements in The Private Patient. At one point, we are told, the stuffy and egotistical surgeon George Chandler-Powell is annoyed when his plans to spend his evening listening to Semele on CD are disrupted by a visitor. It seems to me quite at odds with the serious and humourless character of Mr G.H. Chandler-Powell that he might possibly enjoy something as light and funny as Semele. He seems far more like a Parsifal man to me...)
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According to Alex Ross' damning review in The New Yorker, the Met's new production of Tosca features something worryingly close to the apocryphal bouncing diva:

Act III is recession-era Zeffirelli, with a few soldiers marching about and a plain tower rising to the right. Cavaradossi is shot without suspense. Tosca runs up a flight of stairs into the tower, and then a stunt double leaps from a window and, thanks to a wire, stops in midair. At first, this looked like a comic malfunction, but a freeze-frame effect was apparently intended, as at the end of "Thelma and Louise." While there is nobility in an ambitious failure, there is no glory in ineptitude.

Still, it could have been worse: there could have been Matrix-style windmilling arms...

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The news that Ana Maria Martinez has taken a tumble into the orchestra pit whilst playing Rusalka reminds me of the apocryphal story about the bouncing Tosca, that I first heard at school.

This has it that, on the first night of the run, the singer playing the lead threw herself off the battlements only to land with a substantial thump. On the second night, to muffle the sound, the stage hands increased the amount of padding, causing the singer to bounce back up after throwing herself off...


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