L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione di Poppea (Berlin)

★★★★

(Berlin Staatsoper, conducted by Diego Fasolis, 13 December 2017)

Berlin’s Staatsoper has just reopened after a seven-year refurbishment. On Wednesday, the house was sold out as people gathered to celebrate its freshly gilded finery. And what was on the menu for the grand reopening? Not a safe and predictable opera – a Tosca or a Bohème – but a dose of Roman passion and psychosis from the 17th century. With only three performances (this was the last, until its projected revival next summer), this Poppea felt intense, fresh and daring. It wasn’t without its wobbles, but it featured some very strong casting and offered a compelling picture of a court in thrall to an egotistical, unpredictable sun king. Unsurprisingly, I’ve got slightly carried away with the length of this post, so you may wish to furnish yourself with a cup of tea before starting. There are, however, some very pretty pictures.

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Arminio: George Frideric Handel (1737)

1dd12-arminio1

★★★½

(Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe, 17 February 2016)

So, by a remarkable stroke of luck, my business trip coincided with the Karlsruhe Handel Festival. By even more remarkable good fortune, Parnassus were staging their new production of Handel’s Arminio on the night I arrived and there was an excellent seat still free right in the centre of the eighth row of the stalls. As they say, it would’ve been rude not to.

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Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Vinci: Catone in Utica

(Opéra Royal, Versailles, 19 June 2015)

★★★

Versailles. The very name conjures up opulence and the Opéra Royal, nestled within the palace, is no exception. It’s a jewel-box of gold and crystal, festooned with chandeliers. Simply walking into our loge took my breath away, and I was glad of it. I’d waited for this night for nine months, having impulsively booked tickets three days after I first watched Artaserse. It was an expensive leap of faith. Now, tucked into the velvet-lined corner of our box with a superb view of the stage and orchestra pit (conveniently close to those fabulous horns), I was about to find out if the wait had been worthwhile.

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Alessandro: George Frideric Handel (1726)

Handel: Alessandro

★★★★

(Goethe-Theater Bad Lauchstädt, with Armonia Atenea and George Petrou, 6 June 2015)

On Saturday afternoon, with the mercury rising above 30°C, we headed off to the Goethe-Theater at Bad Lauchstädt for our second staged opera of the week. This time it was the Parnassus production of Handel’s Alessandro, which is already something of a modern classic. Like Lucio Cornelio Silla, this staging sets the story in the 1930s, but its playful and vivid spirit couldn’t be more different from Handel’s tale of tyranny. Unfolding beneath a proscenium arch of Art Deco splendour, Alessandro presents us with the bristling egos and squabbling actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Piranesi: The Via Appia

★★★★½

(Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Riccardo Minasi)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the CD is here. I meant to wait until Versailles before posting about Catone, but I’ve changed my mind and will write separately about the recording and the performance. There are two main reasons for that. First, Valer Sabadus announced last week that he won’t be singing either at the Opera Royal or Wiesbaden: illness prevents his rehearsing. Of course I’ll miss him, but his replacement is Ray Chenez, who sounds rather exciting on the basis of YouTube clips. I’m always happy to discover a new voice.

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Max Emanuel Cencic: Venezia

Venezia: Max Cencic

(Wigmore Hall, with Il Pomo d’Oro and Riccardo Minasi, 12 December 2014)

First I must apologise for the recent hiatus in my posting. For the last few weeks life has been little more than an extraordinary barrage of events that finally came to a head this week in surreal but glorious fashion. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. Now it’s all over and I can slowly get back into my normal rhythm again. There are lots of things that have been going on which I’d love to share with you in due course. And I’m going to kick off with the most recent and the most exhilarating.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione di Poppea

★★★★

(Teatro Real, Madrid, with Les Arts Florissant and William Christie, 2010)

In the wake of the Barbican’s semi-staged Poppea, I decided to have another go at the DVD of this 2010 version from the Teatro Real in Madrid, to see how the two productions compared. It had completely bewildered me first time round. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it much more now that I had a better appreciation of the opera and its context. There are certain elements that I think the Barbican did better, but the Madrid version, with its stellar cast, certainly throws a long shadow. It’s staged, which is a big plus for me; but it completely overshadows the Barbican in one other important way as well.

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Stefano Landi: Il Sant’ Alessio (1632)

Landi: Sant' Alessio

(Théâtre de Caen, Les Arts Florissants with William Christie, 2007)

★★★★ ½

Over the weekend I treated myself to another opera DVD, this time one which transported me back to the very earliest days of the art form, to Rome in 1632. At this date the Counter-Reformation was in full swing and the Baroque was just coming into being. Gianlorenzo Bernini, who would become the supremo of 17th-century Rome, was 25 and had been asked to design the stage set for Stefano Landi’s new religious oratorio Sant’ Alessio. The production available on this DVD attempts to recreate the feel of that first performance and I admit I came to it with some trepidation. This all felt a very long way from the exuberance of the 18th century.

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Artaserse: Leonardo Vinci (1730)

Vinci: Artaserse

★★★★★

(with I Barocchisti [CD] and Concerto Köln [DVD], directed by Diego Fasolis, 2012)

Before we start, I should emphasise: the composer is not the artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), but a completely different person, the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). I must also add a disclaimer. As you may remember, I know nothing about the technicalities of music. In this field I am, more than ever, merely an enthusiastic amateur. That’s especially the case in Baroque music, which must be one of the most technically complex and elaborate areas of classical music. However, as I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of the castrati and, as such, this particular opera (and performance) was one I couldn’t resist.

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