Archive | August, 2017

Second Glyndebourne Traviata

27 Aug

Glyndebourne’s experiment this year was to have a very long run of Traviatas with two casts.  As well as giving lots of people the opportunity to see a popular opera, they also saw people like me coming.  I saw the first lot on May 31.  I saw the last night with the second cast on 27 August, the last night of the season.

Tom Cairns’s production actually looks better from further back: you get more of a sense of the different spaces in the party scenes and you still get the detailed acting of the excellent Douphol and Grenvil of William Dazeley and Henry Waddington, respectively.  It remains an intelligent, strong production.

The three leading roles were new.  Joyce El-Khoury was the Violetta.  She created an isolated, passionate individual.  Her singing was very strong indeed, convincingly managing the different demands of the role.  She’s at her best in Sempre libera and in the scenes with the elder Germont.  While I admired the technical expertise, my doubt was whether she created any of the heart-stopping moments that a great Violetta does.  I was not involved as much as I wanted to be.

Atalla Ayam was the Alfredo, less gauche and less well-acted than his predecessor, his voice is warmer, his personality more passionate.  He made a good, convincing Alfredo.  he didn’t even try for the high notes at the end of the cabaletta and I wondered how much Violetta, in the end, really mattered to him.

Dmitri Platanias was the Germont and the most luxurious casting.  It’s marvellous to hear the strong, sheer luxurious sound of a baritone in its prime in a house that requires no straining.  His acting didn’t strike me as being the original in the world and, if anything, the scene between him and Violetta didn’t strike me as quite as immediate as it did with the first cast.  But this was exceptionally classy singing.

Stefan Soltezs conducted – a late replacement.  I admired it a lot.  The first phrases of the prelude were stretched as far as you could imagine with comfort and it made an immediate statement about the opera.  He accompanied the singers considerately and, I thought, built up the Act II finale as impeccably as anyone I’ve heard.  This was unfussy, very natural Verdi conducting which didn’t seem to feel the need to make every point.  The LPO was in excellent form.

It’s been a decent, if not a great Glyndebourne season.  The interest came from the Hipermestra and the Hamlet, both worthy efforts but neither exactly catching light.  The revivals have been of a high standard and highly enjoyable, but it’s one of the few seasons in my recollection where I can’t think of an evening where you come out thinking “It really doesn’t get better than this”.  There was a lot of enjoyment and all the shows were very strong, but none have quite captured the magic of Glyndebourne at its best.

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Clumsiness of Glyndebourne’s Tito

11 Aug

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Glyndebourne’s new production of La Clemenza di Tito which halving the design budget and sacking the dramaturg would probably not have solved.  I saw it on 11 August and, despite the irritations of a cluttered set and silly films, found it a pretty satisfying evening.

The crucial person in this opera is the title character, or so it seems to me.  The essence of the opera is that Tito has the choice between revenge and forgiveness, between understanding and despotism and living by his principles or by his emotions.  The crucial part is the accompanied recitative in Act II and the scene with Sesto.  If the Tito can bring those off and make you interested in them, then the opera becomes interesting not just about enlightenment political theory but about how individuals live and take decisions.

I thought that Richard Crofts, a late replacement for Steve Davislim, got this point brilliantly.  We see him early on as a conflicted, emotional ruler, possibly unstable, deeply attached to Berenice – how brilliant it is that we never see Tito and Vitellia together, so we have absolutely no sense of any attachment.  Anyway Crofts made that huge scene in Act II interesting and commanded the final scene and made you believe in the conflict that goes on in his mind about what he should do when faced by betrayal by his best friend and his future spouse.  This was an intense, deeply convincing performance.  He sang the music really well, making the arias interesting.  He was the centre-piece.

He had some seriously fine performances surrounding him.  Anna Stephany was originally scheduled to sing Annio but, when Kate Lindsay became pregnant, was moved up.  I’d been looking forward to hearing Lindsay in this role (and I hope I will one day) but Stephany made the finest Sesto I’ve heard since Brigitte Fassbaender knocked me sideways at Edinburgh in 1981. She looked the most convincing man I’ve seen in this role ever – helped by a wig, sideburns and stubble, but my companions (who hadn’t seen the cast list) couldn’t make up their minds until the interval whether this was a mezzo or counter tenor.  She sang the role with real intelligence, a beautiful voice and lacks only Fassbaender’s sheer energy and dynamism.  This was a conflicted, introverted Sesto that I found hugely convincing.

Then there was Alice Coote as Sesto, making the most of her glorious low notes and having fun as this thoughtless, cigarette smoking siren.  She caught the sheer selfishness of the woman and then changed our minds with a Non piu di fiore that caught exactly the repentance and understanding that you’d hope for.  It was a raw, open performance and, again, wonderfully sung.

Joelle Harvey sang Servillia.  The way in which she began her second Act aria was heart-stopping.  This wasn’t a singer seeking to charm, this was a desperate sister, playing the guilt card and it made perfect sense.

Michele Losier was Annio.  I’ve heard some make their Act II aria the highlight of the show.  She didn’t, but made a pretty credible figure.  Clive Bayley made an ambiguous Publio and didn’t make much of his aria.

I thought Robin Ticciati’s conducting outstanding.  This was a lithe, intelligent reading: deeply considerate to his singers and, apparently, at one with the production.  He caught the grandeur of the score and also the personal side.  This felt like Glyndebourne Mozart at its peak.  The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was on wonderful form and the chorus in great voice.  He made you realise how extraordinary the score is – arias running into finales, that astonishing finale to Act I which ends way before you expect and Mozart’s sheer dramatic intelligence.

So to Claus Guth’s production.  The fact that I feel so positive about the individual performances, the sheer intelligence and rawness of the acting suggests that he’s done a great job in interpreting an opera that fails as often as it works.  And yet… He begins with a video during the overture (seriously, can there be a moratorium on these for the next three years?).  It shows Tito and Sextus as boys playing in the grounds at Glyndebourne (again, seriously, can Glyndebourne get out of this childish habit of referring to itself all the time – what with this and Hipermestra this season, it’s become really tiresome – we all know it’s a wonderful place, they don’t have to tell us).   We keep getting reminiscences superimposed on the set usually irritatingly.

The set consists of two parts – an upper part which is black and modern. presumably the cold state, the lower part is full of reeds and water and rock where, presumably, natural feeling takes place.  Those reeds are a real nuisance and you feel sorry for the singers having to negotiate them.  It would, actually, make an outstanding set for Pelleas et Melisande (or, indeed, Rusalka) and I urge Glyndebourne to think of recycling it for next season’s production.

The audience reaction was enthusiastic.  I had the impression of them listening, engaging and being gripped by the piece.  Will they want to see it again?  I rather doubt it.  For me, it will depend on the cast.  But I am grateful for a performance that, actually, got to the heart of an under-rated work and made a difficult, problematic opera look interesting and relevant.