Thursday, 3 July 2014

Some thoughts on the ROH Manon Lescaut

            It's rare for me to blog about an opera performance. I am more likely to discuss my thoughts over a pint, but so much has been said about this production, often trying to fit comments into 140 characters, that I wanted to add my own personal response. There has been a lot of controversy over this production: boos on the first night; critics of the production; critics of the booers. There are parts of this production I like and I think work really well. But there are also things I find frustrating, often little things that could be easily fixed.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Rigoletto and the Verdi baritone

After La Boheme, Puccini wrote Tosca and Madam Butterfly, a trio of masterpieces that have remained in the repertoire ever since. Fifty years earlier, Verdi had accomplished a similar trick only more quickly with Rigoletto (premiered in 1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (also 1853). All three are tuneful, compelling works but each is also very different from the others.

Titta Ruffo as Rigoletto

Sunday, 5 August 2012

A Tenor Playlist

Most commonly playing the romantic hero, it's no surprise that often the tenors have the best tunes in opera. Attached is a link to a playlist of some of the most popular tenor arias, sung by a variety of tenors:

Wagner, the Bayreuth Festival and the beginnings of Regie Theatre

Wagner was a pioneer. His Ring cycle of four operas was 25 years in the making and demanded a whole new type of art form. But it also demanded a new opera theatre. The Ring opens with the Rhinemaidens swimming at the bottom of the river Rhine, moves to a mountain in the clouds, passes through forests with dwarves and dragons, and ends with the burning of Valhalla in the heavens while the earth is flooded with the waters of the Rhine. Staging this was not going to be easy....

And it still isn't easy. A staging of The Ring remains the biggest challenge for any opera company and one of the biggest challenges in the theatre. Wagner decided that the only way to stage his work satisfactorily was to build a new theatre. He settled in the town of Bayreuth in northern Bavaria, and with the financial support of King Ludwig, a huge (and impressionable) Wagner fan, built his theatre. And so, the Bayreuth Festival, which is run every summer by a member of the Wagner family and which only performs the operas of Richard Wagner, was born.

The Rhinemaidens at the Bayreuth premier, 1876

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Wagner playlist

Many Italian operas were composed as "number operas" with linking recitative. For example, no 1: Overture, no 2: opening chorus, recitative, no 3: hero's aria, recitative, no 4: hero's cabaletta with chorus. Each number therefore, had a very clear beginning and end. Wagner's operas, however, are much more through-composed: they have less defined beginnings and ends and so are often less excerptable than Italian operas. These excerpts are sometimes known as "bleeding chunks" as they are pulled out of their musical context with a fade or by editing the music. In addition, Wagner's music, with its use of leitmotivs and declamatory style, is often less "tuneful" or "melodic" than some Italian operas. Below are some of the "highlights" from Wagner's operas.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Madama Butterfly

The failure of Puccini's Madama Butterfly at La Scala, Milan in 1904 is one of opera's most celebrated fiascos. Puccini immediately withdrew the work, made a few judicious cuts and re-writes, and a couple of months later it emerged triumphant in Brescia. Since then, it has become one of the most popular and loved works in the repertory.

Richard Wagner

It's been said that with the exception of Napoleon and Jesus, there have been more books written about Richard Wagner than anybody else. A hugely controversial figure, he was undoubtedly a pioneer and a visionary who did much to advance music and theatre. He remains one of the most influential artists of all time.