Opera Atelier’s first real venture into Handel is accompanied by some significant shifts in aesthetic coupled with some slightly puzzling throwbacks. The work chosen is Alcina. It’s not Handel’s best known (or, indeed, best) but it’s a perfectly serviceable example of Handel’s Italian works for the London stage. The plot, ultimately from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, concerns the sorceress Alcina who has an illusory kingdom made up of the souls of men she has ensnared. Her most recent conquest is the knight Ruggiero. His betrother, Bradamante, disguised as her brother, Ricciardo, shows up with Ruggiero’s former tutor, Melisso. Melisso has a ring which shows things as they are, shorn of illusion. Eventually they use this to return Ruggiero to his duty and Alcina’s kingdom goes up in smoke. Along the way there’s also a sub-plot involving Alcina’s sister, Morgana, who falls in love with Ricciardo to the dismay of her lover Oronte. In the original there’s also a boy looking for his father and a lion but they got cut in Marshalll Pynkowski’s version. In fact there’s probably close to an hour in total cut from Handel’s score
Today’s lunchtime concert in the RBA was given by mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal and bass-baritone Robert Gleadow with Sandra Horst at the piano. The programme was titled Gypsy Songs, Travel Songs. First up was Robert, who looks considerable less rakish without a beard, with three songs from Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel. All three; The Roadside Fire, Bright is the Ring of Words and Whither Must I Wander are familiar recital fare but sung as well as this are a joy to hear. Gleadow has a big, full sound with quite a range of colour but he can also float very beautiful high notes. It was very impressive.
I spoke earlier today with Lucia Cesaroni and Adrian Kramer (via Skype to the west coast where Lucia is appearing with Pacific Opera Victoria) about their upcoming “recital” Extensions of Us; Melody and Movement at the Extension Room on November 13th. It’s pretty much received wisdom that in Toronto the traditional art song recital is dying or maybe already dead. Certainly audiences have declined and the format seems unable to draw the younger audience, even of opera goers. I asked Lucia and Adrian about the motivation and inspiration for their show and also asked them to tell me a little more about what we are going to see and hear.
There a few things coming up in Toronto over the next week or two that might be worth a look.
Tomorrow at noon in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre Lauren Segal and Robert Gleadow accompanied by Sandra Horst are giving a free concert featuring Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, de Falla’s Siete canciones populares Españolas, Ibert’s Chansons de Don Quichotte and Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel.
Earlier this year the Metropolitan opera staged Borodin’s Prince Igor for the first time in nearly a hundred years with an HD broadcast and a DVD/Blu-ray release to boot. It’s an odd work. It’s quite long; a prologue and three acts running over three hours and it’s very episodic. The prologue takes place in Ptivl; the principality of which I gor is prince. He’s about to lead his army against the invading Polovtsians. There are dark omens. The next thing we see, as Act 1 opens, is that Igor is defeated and a captive of Khan Konchak who’s daughter is now in love with Igor’s son. It’s all just happened. Cue lots of exotic Polovtsiania. In Act 2 we are back in Ptivl where Galitsky is making trouble for his sister, Igor’s wife, who has been left as Regent. Mostly the trouble seems to be drunken partying and when the Polovtsian army arrives at the gates the brother, Galitsky, drops dead. In Act 3 the city has been sacked and everybody is kind of mooning around in the rubble until a pretty depressed Igor shows up and implores the other Russian princes to get off their arses and do something (unspecified). All the important stuff happens off stage and there really isn’t any resolution. There is some great music though.
My review of the opening night of the COC’s much revived Brian Macdonald production of Madama Butterfly was as lukewarm as the audience reaction. In fact, I’ve never seen an audience in that house so subdued. Reviews of the alternate cast with Kelly Kaduce in the lead had generally been more encouraging so I was keen to see what she could do. I saw it yesterday afternoon. Let’s cut to the chase. She transforms the production. It’s like watching a different show and every scene she appears in has an energy that was lacking before.
At the Christmas 2012 Against the Grain Christmas party I won a mega box set of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau goodies which included a couple of DVDs of opera extracts including some footage of him singing the title role in Don Giovanni auf Deutsch. The full recording from which those excerpts were taken has recently been released on DVD. It’s a TV broadcast from the opening of the rebuilt Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1961. It’s the earliest recorded in a theatre, in front of an audience, TV opera broadcast that I have seen. It wasn’t, apparently, broadcast live. The recording was made during the final dress and broadcast the following evening simultaneously with the first performance proper.