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Posts Tagged ‘Katherine Manley’

A Touch of Venus

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Review – Pigmalion & Anacréon (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Thursday 8 October 2014)

Pigmalion – Daniel Auchinloss
Le Statue – Katherine Manley
Anna Dennis – L’Amour
Céphise – Susanna Hurrell

Anacréon – Matthew Brook
Chloé – Anna Dennis
Batile – Augustin Prunell-Friend

Choir of the Englightenment
Les Plaisirs des Nations
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Edith Lalonger (Choreographer)
Jonathan Williams (Conductor)

Following their performance of Zaïs earlier this year, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Les Plaisirs de Nations joined forces once again for the Rameau Project – for the actes de ballet Pigmalion and what I believe was the Anacréon that formed the third part of his original Les Surprises d’Amour, both written in 1748.

And under the watchful baton of Jonathan Williams, it once again provided an evening of some superb musicianship and some elegant dance.

Personally, the star of the evening was the returning Anna Dennis. L’Amour in Pigmalion, she took centre stage as Chloé in the post interval performance of Anacréon. Ms Dennis possesses a bright and flexible soprano – there is a crystalline quality to it that is perfectly suited to this music, as well as an uninterrupted sheen and fluidity throughout her range which made her performance ravishing. Additionally there was a flexibility to her voice that not only enables her to negotiate the more florid passages but also to highlight the delicate nuances in Rameau’s vocal lines.

And indeed it was the women who mostly impressed during the evening. Katherine Manley – as the statue – injected a real sense of simplicity – almost naivety – to her performance and all credit for her beautifully choreographed and graceful interaction with the dancers. And in her short appearance as Céphise, Susanna Hurrell also made a positive impression.

Matthew Brook’s Anacréon was the most convincing of Rameau’s gentlemen. He molded his robust and warm baritone around Rameau’s vocal lines and brought out the wit in his elegant performance. I did not warm to the Pigmalion of Daniel Auchinloss. Not only was there a lack of projection but also – in common with Augustin Prunell-Friend’s Batile to a lesser extent – there wasn’t the necessary lightness or flexibility to his voice which Rameau’s music demands – especially for the magnificent Regne Amour.

However for the most part, the diction of both the singers – and the Choir of the Enlightenment – was very good. And while I am no expert when it comes to dance but as before in Zaïs, Les Plaisirs des Nations combined graceful choreography with effortless grace and when required, humour.

After some indecisive playing at the beginning of Pigmalion, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed with their trademark verve and spirit. Jonathan Williams was every alert to the shifting rhythms and colours that abound in Rameau’s music and the players in the orchestra responded accordingly.

I hope that The Rameau Project continues to bring Rameau’s shorter works to the stage, supporting what I hope is a wider renaissance of his larger operas.

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Worlds Apart.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on May 3, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Zaïs (Sunday 27 April 2014, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London)

Zaïs (Jeremy Budd), Zélidie (Louise Alder), Cindor (Ashley Riches), Amour (Katherine Watson), Oromazès (David Stout), La grande Prêtresse (Katherine Manley), Une Sylphide (Anna Dennis) & Un Sylph (Gwilym Bowen).

Choir of the Enlightenment
Les Plaisirs des Nations (Ricardo Barros, Annabelle Blanc, Damien Dreux, Hubert Hazebroucq, Guillaume Jablonka, Fenella Kennedy, Adeline Lerme & Flora Sans)

Edith Lalonger (Choreographer)
Jonathan Williams (Conductor)

and

Arias for Farinelli (Monday 28 April 2014, Wigmore Hall)

Ann Hallenberg (Mezzo Soprano)
Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset (Director)

Last week I attended two concerts containing music written within roughly a decade or so of each other that couldn’t have been more different but of equal and incredible musical stature.

The first was Rameau’s Pastorale héroïque, Zais and the second was a musical biography of arias written for the famous castatro, Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi better known as Farinelli.

Both composer and singer are gaining in popular currency in terms of performance – for example at both ENO and Glyndebourne and recordings ranging from the exquisite recital discs of David Hansen, Philippe Jaroussky and Sabine Devieilhe.

And rightly so.

Rameau changed forever the direction of French opera and Farinelli inspired some of the most beautiful and audacious arias of his century.

Rameau’s operas are exceptional not only for the sheer delight of their musical invention and dramatic scale but also because of the intellectual dimension to his operas.

Rameau wrote his first opera Hippolyte et Aricie in 1733 and it literally shook the musical establishment. Zaïs followed fifteen years later in 1748 and between he rewrote Hippolyte as well as composing Castor et Pollux and Dardanus. For anyone interested in his works, I would heartily recommend Charles Dill’s book Monstrous Opera: Rameau and the tragic tradition – which proposed as theory as to why Rameau rewrote – in some cases – substantial parts of his operas.

It’s simply brilliant that Jonathan Williams, Edith Lalonger and other colleages are leading the charge with The Rameau Project, using research and theory and performances to attain a better understanding of the composer and his works.

At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the orchestra and chorus were placed at the back of the stage, with the front part left tantalizing empty for the dancers.

The depiction of Chaos at the beginning and the creation of the world by Oromazès immediately sets this opera beyond the merely pastoral and in many ways it pre-empts Die Zauberflöte with its own masonic connections so much so that it will be interesting to see if the Rameau Project reveals any connections between the composer and an organization that was very active in Eighteenth Century France.

As with much Rameau there were moments of incredible beauty and poignancy throughout. Anna Dennis as une Sylphide was one of the highlights of the evening and it was a shame that we heard so little of her. Her opening number, Chantez les oiseaux was beautifully sung, with great control and elegance. Her voice, even throughout its range, had a bright ringing top and I am looking forward to hearing her on Handel’s Siroe which is released soon.

Of the two main characters, Louise Alder’s Zelidie was similarly impressive. With her bell-like soprano she displayed an instinctive sense for Rameau’s vocal line and Coulez mes pleurs – with its haunting flute – was the highlight of the evening. I was not as convinced with Jeremy Budd’s hero. Notwithstanding his constant use of a vocal score, I didn’t think that his voice was well-suited to Rameau’s music. Granted the notes were all there and sung, but I didn’t feel that there was enough nuance or colour in his singing. Both Katherines – Watson and Manley – however were also magnificent. Katherine Watson delivered just the right sense of arrogant bearing in her performance and together with Ms Alder, Katherine Manley added to the dramatic scale of the trio and chorus calling on Amour to descend from Heaven in the First Act.

Of the remaining men, Cindor, was mellifluously sung by Ashley Riches and his confidently held the stage during his temptation scene. I also think that Gwilym Bowen could be a name to watch out for in future French baroque performances.

I have some strong opinions about the use of dance in opera – especially when it serves no purpose– but here Les Plaisir des Nations delivered not only some graceful and exquisite dancing, but dancing that was central to the development of the plot. Rather than stopping the unfolding action, Edith Lalonger’s thoughtful and elegant choreography added extra depth to the emotions being portrayed by the singers.

There were moments of uncertainty and rhythmic untidiness in the orchestra – perhaps but the Enlightenment chorus was impressive performing with both clear diction and rhythmic finesse.

If there was one small distraction, it was the fact that the singers did resort to using scores when in the ‘performance’ area of the stage. While some of the singers actively engaged with the dancers, carrying around the music meant the others – in particular Budden’s Zaïs – was further dramatically hampered.

As a great innovator and experimenter, I think that Rameau would have approved of the ambitions of this performance and I look forward to seeing Pigmalion and Anacréon this October.

If France was hermetically sealed in its highly-mannered Baroque summer in 1748 the rest of Europe was galloping towards the Classical era. And this was demonstrated by an excellent evening at Wigmore Hall with Ann Hallenberg and Les Talents Lyriques under Christophe Rousset.

If Ms Hallenberg was indeed suffering from a cold – as Twitter claimed – then it was hardly noticeable except in the occasional shying away from greater ornamentation in the returning da capos. But from the start she established her vocal credentials and musical intelligence.

Not surprisingly, the recital started with two arias by his own brother, Riccardo. Son qual nave ch’agitata was written for Hasse’s Artaserse in London. Full of coloratura passages as well as vocal leaps and bounds it is impressive but rather outstays its welcome. Ombra fedele anch’io – made famous in the film – is once again well written without being exceptional. You do have to wonder if Riccardo didn’t somewhat hang off the coat tails of his brother.

Yet Ms Hallenberg performed these arias with incredible aplomb and bestowed on them performances that lifted their own lacklustre creativity.

Geminiano Giacomelli – who features on Joyce DiDonato’s Drama Queens recital disc – was one of the most famous composers of his generation. From Adriano in Siria, both arias demonstrated that the composer was at least fluent in the art vocal writing. In Già presso al termine the mezzo again skillfully negotiated the coloratura, while Passagier che incento was also scored with a concertante part for the principle violinist and was delightfully performed here.

Farinelli’s teacher Porpora was represented by Se pietoso il tuo labbro (Semiramide riconosciuto) and Alto Giove from Polifemo. Whlie there is no disputing the elegance of the former aria, surely Alto Giove must rank as one of the most beautiful arias of this age. If in the first aria Ms Hallenberg spun out the vocal line and the delicate embellishments with an incredibly light touch, her performance of the latter was simply ravishing. All too often this aria can been taken a tad too quickly but on this evening Rousset gave the music time to breathe and pulse, filling the entire hall.

And Ms Hallenberg was simply radiant. Her voice caressed the music, seamlessly from phrase to phrase with just the right balance of embellishment. Rightly recognized by the audience, it was the highlight of the evening.

The final two arias in the recital were from Catone in Utica by Leonardo Leo. With a slightly more baroque bent, Che legge spietata was smartly constructed with a single-minded opening that was contrasted with more legato sections. On the other hand, Cervo in bosco was an impressive simile aria – with gentler middle section – with rowdy horns and weighty coloratura, magnificently thrown off by Ms Hallenberg.

During the recital itself, Les Talent Lyriques also performed JC Bach’s Symphony in g minor from his Opus 6 and the overture to Cleofide. I must be honest that live I wasn’t too impressed with the Bach. Having listened to it again on iPlayer I have to admit it wasn’t as disappointing as I first thought. However compared to the Hasse it didn’t have any sense of the weight or grandeur that is much needed in JC’s symphonies and overtures. The overture to Cleofide was another matter altogether – confident, bright and simply more alive.

Her encore was Handel’s Sta’ nell’ircana from Alcina. Technically I don’t think that Farinelli ever sang for Handel in London but rather for Popora’s rival company but it was a performance of such vocal bravura and bravado that it made a fitting end to an incredible evening.

I hope that Ms Hallenberg return to London more often in future. She has a rare and exceptional talent and the audience loved her.

Murder Most Magnificent

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on February 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Review – Medea (English National Opera, Wednesday 20 February 2013)

Medea – Sarah Connolly
Jason – Jeffrey Francis
Creon – Brindley Sherratt
Creusa/Phantom – Katherine Manley
Orontes – Roderick Williams
Nerina – Rhian Lois
Cleonis/Cupid – Aoife O’Sullivan
Arcas – Oliver Dunn
Corinthian/Jealousy – John McMunn
Italian Woman/Phantom II – Sophie Junker

Director – David McVicar
Designer – Bunny Christie
Lighting Designer – Paule Constable
Choreographer – Lynne Page

Chorus Master – Jörg Andresen
Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera

Conductor – Christian Curnyn

English National Opera is a company that operates at both extremes of the performance spectrum.

To put it bluntly. Their productions are either incredibly good and thought-provoking. Or completely dreadful and ill-conceived. Although in those cases they are saved from complete ignominy from the general quality of the casting.

With their current production of Medea they are off the spectrum of incredibly good. Excellent. Award-winning. And I would even hazard to say a potential long-runner.

ENO would do well to consider building on their French baroque credentials based on this production and their previous production of Castor and Pollux.

David McVicar has matured from being the enfant terrible of opera directors with great ideas with great ideas to a great opera director with a great vision full of sharp ideas.

But first, the cast.

Charpentier’s music moves seamlessly from air to ‘recitatif’ – through composed or not – and therefore has few main numbers as it were. Therefore attention to the detail to the music and a keen eye to the shift between the two is required. And all the singers keenly demonstrated both.

It was a strongly knit cast without a weak link but clearly this is a production that will most be remembered for the tour-de-force of Sarah Connolly as Medea. This role could have been composed for her. I saw her recently perform scenes from French Baroque operas and this is clearly a genre that suits her voice and temperament.

It is clear – as she said in an interview – that completely trusts McVicar but they obviously share common ground when it comes to developing a character. It goes without saying that musically this was an incredibly distinguished and passionate performance. Sarah Connolly is in possession of a lustrous voice that can switch from the lightest, most delicate of tone and colour to an instrument of incredible force and volume and never was a word dropped or muffled. Witness for example her scenes with Nerina and better still the scene when she wrestles with killing her own sons for example. And it was also a subtle yet masterful transition from loving wife to spurned, vengeful woman. Her acting was incredibly convincing not only in the most obvious scenes but for example in her scene with Jason before her descent into revenge and as well as those scenes with Creon and Creusa.

As the King’s daughter-cum-starlet, Katherine Manley’s bright and full soprano was perfect and glittered like her ill-fated gown. Her closing air – as she lay dying – was sung with great poise but each of her scenes was beautifully and eloquently sung even when she had an inadvertent wardrobe malfunction. Katherine Manley is clearly someone to keep an eye on.

Jeffrey Francis as Jason was a pleasant find. His light, crisp yet sweet-toned tenor was a delight and a good fit for Charpentier’s music as well as with the rest of the ensemble. Particularly impressive was his love duet with Creusa.

The remaining warriors – Brindley Sherratt’s Creon and Roderick Williams’ Orontes – completed the very strong ensemble. I particularly enjoyed Roderick Williams as Pollux in Kosky’s production at ENO last year and here he returned with an equally strong portrayal of Orontes, displaying the same strong, darkly hued baritone with excellent diction. And Brindley Sherratt was superb as Creon. His resonant bass dealt comfortably with the delicacy of Charpentier’s writing.

Special mention too of Rhian Lois as Nerina, Aoife O’Sullivan as Cleonis and Cupid, Oliver Dunn’s Arcas and Sophie Junker’s Italian Woman for the strength and intelligence of their performances.

And of course the ENO chorus sang not only with conviction but with passion. The chorus revealing the death of Creon and Orontes was particularly impressive.

Christian Curnyn led the entire ensemble with great verve and attention to the music. There was an equal balance of rhythmic vitality and beautifully phrased suavity combined with a greater attention to the orchestra colour of Charpentier’s score than I found in his Rameau last year.

And so to the production.

The production was built around a combination of McVicar’s motifs but didn’t suffer because of it. The set could have been borrowed from his Covent Garden Figaro for example, and he maximised the size of the Coliseum’s stage – sometimes its own handicap – by focusing some energy on the activity surrounding the main characters without it being distracting.

The setting was – with its Wrens manoeuvring armies around a map and the costumes – reminiscent of the Second World War and there was a general air of decadence to the entire production. Ms Manley may have inadvertently lost her underwear in the second act but it added to the subtle hint of loucheness – almost decadence – at the court of Creon. His own desire for his daughter made clear by the way he touched her early in the opera, was heightened when the Phantoms in the penultimate act are all doppelgangers of Creusa. Similarly Cupid’s night club scene was smart and witty but again managed to deliver and underlying sense of menace.

The scene when Medea calls upon her demons was brilliantly done, and McVicar spared none of the savagery as Connolly cut her own skin and while I was somewhat at a loss with the shaved-headed, red painted male demons in shift dresses and high heels, the dancing in this scene was brutally effective.

Indeed for the most part the choreography – always a difficult thing to integrate into baroque opera and ENO’s dismal Julius Caesar is testimony to – was smart and efficient. When it didn’t add to the narrative, as it did in the aforementioned scene, it was hearty and jovial, which was no bad thing.

Medea shows what ENO is capable of when everything comes together – an excellent cast led by a superb conductor under the auspices of a smart and intelligent director. It’s a shame that John Berry dismisses the idea of cinema broadcasts. This production would – I am sure – be successful on the big screen because it has everything – a great story committed to stage with great singing, marvellous playing and brilliant direction.

Definitely worth seeing if you haven’t already purchased a ticket.

And the second of two very clever and enjoyable French baroque productions by ENO. I do hope that John Berry realises that here is repertoire that is waiting to be explored and will decisively stake a claim to this genre in the capital.

Can we hope for a more new productions? Indeed perhaps some Lully?

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