Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming teamed up for Strauss’ Arabella at the 2014 Salzburg Osterfestspiel. The production is directed by Florentine Klepper and it’s set late 19th/early 20th century and is conventional in many ways though there are a few interesting touches. There may be more than a few but video director Brian Large focusses quite relentlessly on the singers 99% of the time so it’s hard to tell. I noticed a few things. The hotel set in Act 1 is multi-room but it’s very rare that we see other than the room the principal action is in so who knows what might have been going on. There’s a use of body doubles during the Act 2 duet to create a sort of “portrait” of Mandryka and Arabella that broods over the stage for the rest of the act. The fortune teller reappears with the “trouble” card during the “key” scene. The whole Fiakermilli episode is difficult to interpret because the video gives such a fragmentary view of it. There’s certainly a couple of suggestive giant dolls. Otherwise this scene just comes off as pretty crude and lame. I suspect that there may be much going on here that isn’t on the video. This all tends to reinforce the weaknesses of the second half of Act 2 and the start of Act 3 which certainly are not Strauss and von Hofmannsthal’s best work.
My second concert of the day was a Halloween themed recital given by soprano Jennifer Taverner at Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu. Now previously I had only heard Jennifer sing operetta, at which she is very good, so I had little idea what her range is. Last night I found out. The first part of the program was pretty normal recital fare. Ombre pallide from Handel’s Alcina was knocked off with flair and some bravura in the repeat. Then came some French chansons of spookiness including Saint Saens’ Danse macabre where Jennifer and pianist Andrea van Pelt were joined by Jennifer Murphy on violin. All nicely done with fine diction.
Yesterday lunchtime in the RBA soprano Lauren Eberwein and the Rosebud String Quartet (Sheila Jaffé, Aaron Schwebel, Keith Hamm and Rachel Desoer) entertained us with a program of Haydn and Schoenberg. First up was an arrangement of Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos. We got the recitative, Teseo mio ben, and the two arias, Dove sei and Ah! che morir vorrei. It’s basically a cantata with tessitura that sits very nicely for Lauren’s voice. It was an elegant performance all round with some passion in the concluding aria. And it’s always good to hear a Haydn vocal work.
I have spent most of the last two decades working in healthcare. Most of that has been at the high tech, big dollar end of the business and one thing one learns in that world is that the big dollars are big. Sometimes one questions the large salaries of hospital administrators and ministry “off scale” bureaucrats. Sometimes one asks whether spending very large sums to provide a marginal life extension of poor quality makes any sense. Always one is aware that much of the money spent that way could have a much greater impact elsewhere. Nobody would deny that a dollar spent on providing emergency medicine in a disaster area or conflict zone goes a lot further than a dollar spent on the latest experimental chemotherapy or dubious IT mega-project. That’s why I, personally, support Médecins Sans Frontières and why I was so glad that to say thanks for their shiny new piano acquisition, Tapestry decided to stage a concert benefitting MSF and local “first responder” charity Global Medic.
Yesterday’s free lunchtime concert should have been the first opportunity to see Simone Osborne and Gordon Bintner in recital together but, sadly, Gordon had the lurgy so, if you want to see them perform together you will just have to go and see L’elisir d’amore at the COC. Fortunately Andrew Haji was able to jump in at short notice. Not such a bad guy to have on the bench!
Andrew started out with Santoliquido’s I canti della sera. I had heard him sing these before at Mazzoleni but it was good to hear them again. Genuine Italian art song isn’t all that common and these show the voice off nicely. There was both some lovely limpid singing and plenty of power when needed. He’s a pretty good story teller too. He also gave us the three Duparc songs that he and Liz Upchurch, once again at the piano, gave us earlier in the year. Again the standout was Le manoir de Rosemonde, a most beautiful and haunting song given the full treatment here.
The Canadian Opera Company released its annual report and accounts for 2016/17 last night. The big news was the extension of General Director Alexander Neef’s tenure to the end of the 2025/26 season. The financial news was basically “same old same old”. Ticket sales once again showed a small decline which was compensated for by record fundraising performance to yield, essentially, a break even.
Bandits in the Valley opened yesterday at Todmorden Mills. It’s a site specific comic opera with words by Julie Tepperman and music by Benton Roark. The time is 1880. Sir George Taylor is the owner of the most productive paper mill in the British Empire but he wants more. Specifically he wants to convert the entire Don Valley to paper thus depriving the pesky bandits thereof of cover. He also wants Lily Pollard, the comely soprano lead of the travelling company he has engaged to stage The Pirates of Penzance as part of the mill’s 25th anniversary celebrations. He’s not the only one after Lily. She’s also the target of the female head of the troupe, Henri, and of Jeremiah, the bandit chief who is trying to obtain his inheritance. He in turn is pursued by the house maid (and his cousin) Birgitta and, in a purely brotherly way of course, another bandit, Freddy. In proper comic opera fashion a birthmark, naturally enough on Jeremiah’s buttock, is involved. Mayhem ensues.