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Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Crowe’

Lost in translation

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Review – Orphée et Eurydice (Royal Opera House, Saturday 3 October 2015)

Orphée – Juan Diego Flórez
Eurydice – Lucy Crowe
Amour – Amanda Forsythe

Directors – Hofesh Shechter & John Fulljames
Designer – Conor Murphy
Lighting Designer – Lee Curran
Choreographer – Hofesh Shechter

Hofesh Shechter Company
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (Conductor)

It’s a shame that Gluck is not performed more often in London. Rameau, thanks to be English National Opera and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, doesn’t do too badly, but Gluck does miserably. So I was excited to see this production and was fortunate – in some ways – to be able to see the final performance following an unexpected change in my diary.

So it was a tad disappointing that, despite a clear intention, that the Royal Opera House production of Orphée et Eurydice is a hit and miss affair. And that the misses could so easily have been avoided, as they were very few.

But first, simply how magnificent were the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner? There was a vibrancy, energy and sheer simplicity to both playing and singing that cut straight to the original intentions of Gluck. No frills. No affectations. Just simple, beautifully articulate performances of music they clearly love and cherish.

If one single moment in the opera stands out, it was the opening of the second act as the chorus confronted Orphée’s attempts to enter Hades. Their physicality perfectly matched the music, as did their subsequent yet gradual change of heart.

From the orchestra itself, Gardiner coaxed wonderfully pliant and magical playing from the flute and oboe soloists as well as unearthing the right timbre for the brass throughout.

Playing and singing of that calibre is all to often missing from the opera houses in London at the moment. Let’s hope that Covent Garden ask the ensemble to return again, although hopefully within a more inspiring production.

Of the singers, while there was great anticipation for Signor Flórez, the laurels – despite the all-too-expected adoration of the Covent Garden audience who more often than not cheer a well-known name rather than talent – rightfully belong to Lucy Crowe. What an eloquent, impassioned performance she gave. Vocally Ms Crowe was simply splendid. The simplicity of Cet asile amiable et tranquille was more than off-set by the emotion with which she infused her subsequent duet and air with her lacklustre spouse.

Similarly, Amanda Forsythe made an excellent and brightly voiced Amour – elegantly dispatching Si le doux accords de ta lyre and Soumis au silence. Sadly, in the final scene she was only slightly let down by the direction at the close of the opera, playing her syncopated vocal line for laughs rather than the sincerity that Gluck originally intended.

I admit that I am not a fan of Juan Diego Flórez. I had originally intended to see Michele Angelini but a change of plans meant I had to swap my ticket. Personally I think that Flórez more often than not sounds too forced vocally and as a result his singing is rather bland and one dimensional. There’s no doubting that he negotiated the role of Orphée but it was ‘Flórez’ not Orphée on stage. It was only when he shared the stage and the singing with Lucy Crowe that his performance lifted above a more usual stand-and-deliver norm. Clearly Covent Garden felt they needed a name rather than the right performer to sell the tickets.

If Flórez was one part of the equation to get the tills ringing, I have to wonder if Hofesh Shechter was the other.

The production – the brainchild of Shechter and Fulljames – was visually interesting and perhaps they should consider putting the orchestra on stage for ‘period’ operas more often. But a desire to fill every single moment with movement obscured the simplicity of Gluck’s drama.

I have absolutely no problem with dancing being integral to a production – you only have to look at the success of the Rameau project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – but when it adds little to the drama, and indeed seems superfluous to it and even distracting, then I have to question what purpose it serves. In the Eighteenth Century, ballet was an integral part of opera, playing an essential narrative role. In the programme, Shechter talked about bringing out the simplicity of the opera. It started well but then the choreography just began to resemble the mania of Trainspotting. I remember being absolutely mesmerized and moved by Pina Bausch’s Iphigenie auf Tauris – the elegance, the commitment to not only reflecting, but also amplifying the drama seemed to come naturally. Shechter is no Bausch. What he gave us was messy, uninvolved and ultimately undermined what Gluck had intended – dance fused with the music and the drama to tell the story.

At the end of the opera, the suite of dances should feel like a natural extension of what has gone before. I would have been happier to have just sat back and listening to the glorious playing of the English Baroque Soloists rather than be subjected to the maniacal thrashing about presented at the front and back of the stage.

Indeed, had they dispensed with Shechter’s choreography, overall the simplicity of production would have won out.

Glücklich? Not really.

Ja, Ja.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Richard Strauss on May 10, 2014 at 9:25 am

Review – Der Rosenkavalier (Excerpts) & Mozart Symphony No. 38
(Barbican Hall, Thursday 8 May 2014)

Marschallin – Anne Schwanewilms
Octavian – Sarah Connolly
Sophie – Lucy Crowe

Additional singers – Gerard Schneider, Thomas Atkins, Johannes Kammler and David Shipley.

London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Mark Elder (Conductor)

What a magnificent evening of performances that made me fall in love with Der Rosenkavalier all over again.

But before the sumptuous world of Richard Strauss, Elder and the orchestra gave us a taut yet beautifully shaped performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38. Within its three movement structure there are hints of Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro – a smart piece of programming alluding to love, intrigue and lust on which Strauss’ own opera set in roughly the same era is based.

If the orchestra played with grace and vitality in the first half, then in the second they launched into the introduction of Der Rosenkavalier with unabashed vigour and enthusiasm. There was no doubt in Elder’s mind what was going on in the Marschallin’s bedchamber as the curtain rises.

I don’t think I have heard the LSO sound – well – so European in some time. The string playing was warm and luscious, the winds luminous and the brass – and especially the horns – exultant.

They literally reveled in Strauss’ music. When accompanying the singers they were sensitive to the mood and the words but when needed the sound they produce was prodigious. The waltz interlude at the beginning of the Third Act extract, for example, was both vulgar yet triumphant.

And rising above Strauss’ opulent orchestration was a trio of singers who could not be bettered.

While it is hard to single them out individually, I must admit that Anne Schwanewilms established herself as the pre-eminent Strauss interpreter. I have long admired not only her concert and stage performances, but also her recordings and cannot fathom why she does not perform more often in the UK.

Our loss significantly.

As the Marschallin at the Barbican she was vocally formidable. But not only did she display a vocal authority – scaling down to the smallest yet still distinct softness as well as soar above the orchestra without a break in tone or vocal colour – but also a depth of understanding of how to communicate the Hoffmansthal’s words. Her crystal clear diction was coupled with an innate sense of the conversational nature of Strauss’ vocal line when needed – lingering on words that demonstrated an insight and level of musicianship that is hard to match today.

Da geht er hin was an incredible performance both in terms of her singing and her characterization. Her Marschallin was a woman of small, measured – almost calculated – gestures but they were gestures that spoke volumes. At Die Zeit im grunde, she literally bled her voice to a vocal pale that was chilling.

Sarah Connolly was her equal as the boisterous Octavian so acutely in lust – not love – with her. Connolly again reveled in Strauss music, effortlessly rising and falling with the vocal line, with a lustrous tone that sparkled.

And as Sophie, Lucy Crowe immediately captured the essence of the very short extract from the beginning of Act Two. A devilish part there was no hint of stress or strain as Strauss sent her into the vocal stratosphere.

That moment when Octavian and Sophie’s eyes meet over the rose was beautifully timed.

Also there was a real sense of luxury in having four male voices and again they all sang their small roles exuberantly.

But of course it was the trio that the audience was waiting for. And thankfully Elder and his performers gave us the necessary lead in into what must be Strauss’ most glorious pieces of music, and one of the most glorious scenes in opera.

That moment when the winds strike their chord and Octavian turns to Marie Theres’ was magical. And listening to Ms Schwanewilms unfurl that magnificent melody of resignation I would venture, broke a few hearts in the audience.

Definitely mine.

And as the three singers weaved around each other, Elder masterfully edged them closer and closer to that thrilling climax with the Marschallin’s In Gottes Namen leaping out clearly over the orchestra.

I’ve said before that for me the most critical words in this opera are the final words sung by the Marschallin.

And here, Anne Schwanewilms filled that single phrase– Ja, ja – with such emotion that in the final closing duet – with Strauss’ tangy harmonies in flutes and violins – Elder captured the sense of uncertainty of the young lovers future.

Indeed, it was an evening when the singers and the orchestra, marshaled by Elder, managed to create the same level of excitement and emotional weight as if we had watched the entire opera.

And I only wish we had.

But these extracts from Der Rosenkavalier will remain with the audience for a very long time.

And perhaps we shall see more of Anne Schwanewilms in the UK.

Stand Up And Be Conti’d

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Review – L’Issipile (Wigmore Hall, Wednesday 22 January 2014)

Issipile – Lucy Crowe
Eurinome – Diana Montague
Rodope – Rebecca Bottone
Toante – John Mark Ainsley
Learco – Flavio Ferri-Benedetti
Giasone – Lawrence Zazzo

La Nuova Musica
David Bates (Director)

Generally unknown, Francesco Bartolomeno Conti is the latest composer to be ‘rediscovered’ and we are fortunately that L’Issipile is seeing the light of day once again. It is one of two operas he completed in the year of his death and is rich with musical invention, contains clearly etched characters and has a keen sense of dramatic momentum.

Plaudits must go to Flavio Ferri-Benedetti for bringing this opera to a modern audience. His academic research and evident passion should be congratulated.

Interestingly this libretto – the second Metastasio wrote specifically for Vienna – didn’t enjoy the success of his other works. Apparently the ‘bloody’ subject matter wasn’t popular with the 1732 Carnival audience. But I am not sure that is the only reason. Other operas of the period featured both suicides and murders – think Mitridate Eupatore (1707), Tamerlano (1731) and even later in Vienna Les Danaiïdes (1784) for example – and the quality of the music in my opinion outweighs any perceived weakness in the libretto.

I agree that perhaps it wasn’t ideally suitable to the Carnival season but perhaps Conti’s untimely death contributed to it not being revived again except for once in Hamburg five years later and also because ultimately the plot itself isn’t ‘typically’ Metastasian.

Issipile might be the ‘monarch’ but she isn’t the Enlightened despot more commonly associated with that leading role. Rather her emotional journey is more erratic and emotionally wrought. The villain is neither vanquished or saved by ‘reason’ or magnanimity but takes his own life and therefore ultimately the “lieto fine” – the return of balance and order – is somewhat diminished and doesn’t counterbalance the massacre at the beginning.

For these reasons perhaps it didn’t make comfortable listening for the aristocratic audience.

Yet, Conti etched out convincing characters from among the Metastasian characters-as-ciphers who more normally represent elevated principles or undeniably haughty emotions – duty, filial love, honour for example.

This is particularly true of Eurinome and Rodope. The former’s accompanied recitative and aria at the start of Act II was on a par with similar scenes in Handel and Conti’s other contemporaries. But I would also argue that Rodope’s emotional arc was the most complete. Her first two arias – beautifully crafted with some unexpected harmonic shifts – made clear her (misplaced) affection for Learco. And with his final rejection, her final simile aria was one of sharply defined emotion – anger and defiance.

In contrast – and perhaps deliberately by Conti – the music for the traditional characters of Toante, Issipile and Giasone was more ‘stock in trade’ as if reinforcing their more constricted emotions. That is not to say that the music was any less notable. Issipile’s simile arias were technically magnificent. And both Toante and Giasone – both their second arias respectively – were lessons in pre-Classical simplicity.

The arias for Learco were similarly well crafted and full of swagger. I particularly enjoyed the cello obbligato of the second aria for example.

And throughout Conti made effective use of accompanied recitative – not only at the beginning of the second act but also in the closing scenes.

If the music was of a high standard, then the music making was – for the most part – magnificent.

In the title role Lucy Crowe demonstrated an unerring sense of style, combined with flawless technique. Her bright and incredibly agile soprano – bursting with spirit and fire – not only negotiated the great expanses of coloratura but in her final aria of the first act – reminiscent of Gluck– she coloured her voice to express the anguish Issipile faced.

Personally however Rebecca Bottone – Rodope ‘enceinte’ – stole the show. Also in possession of a piercingly bright and lithe soprano, she expressed Rodope’s emotional journey through some of the most beautiful singing I have heard in a long time. Non che sai was the highlight of the evening.

Diana Montague as Eurinome shoed why she is a singer of both distinction and great ability. Joining the ensemble at late notice her performance was a tour de force of emotion and musicianship. It was also a pleasure to see John Mark Ainsley – whose ENO Orfeo remains with me to this day – in the role of Toante. A darker tenor than some would normally expect in a role such as this, he elegantly and smoothly managed the tricky coloratura and da capo ornamentations with grace.

And of course, Lawrence Zazzo was – both musically and dramatically – an impressive Giasone. His final aria – so skillfully performed – demonstrates why he remains in such demand as ever. I look forward to his forthcoming disc with La Nuova Musica.

Ultimately however I did wonder if the role of Learco should have been awarded to a more accomplished singer? There was no denying the enthusiasm Ferri-Benedetti brought to the role but personally his vocal technique felt just a little unfinished. The coloratura wasn’t as clean, even or defined as it should have been and there were problems of both intonation and breath control. And I have to admit that his “pantomime villainy” somewhat undermined Metatastio’s lofty sense of drama and led the audience to laugh at inopportune moments.

Supporting the singers, David Bates and La Nuova Musica were an incredible ensemble. A feisty ensemble, they clearly enjoyed performing Conti’s music. Bates drew some exquisite colours and timbres from the ensemble and also maintained the dramatic momentum throughout the recitatives.

Without a doubt, L’Issipile is an opera worthy of revival – the quality of the music and the high standard and enthusiasm of performance was extraordinary and memorable.

This revival – two hundred and fifty years after its premiere – deserved the ovation it received.

A recording please.

Handel’s Opera In Operetta’s Clothing

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on May 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

Review – Imeneo (The Barbican, Wednesday 29 May 2013)

Rosmene – Rebecca Bottone
Clomiri – Lucy Crowe
Tirinto – Renata Pokupić
Imeneo – Vittorio Prato
Argenio – Stephan Loges

Choir of the AAM
Academy of Ancient Music

Conductor – Christopher Hogwood

Imeneo was Handel’s penultimate opera for London and like its successor – Deidamia – failed to win the approval of the London audience.

This is surprising. While it doesn’t have the grandeur of Giulio Cesare, the dramatic sweep of Ariodante or the emotional pathos of Rodelinda, Imeneo is a real gem. Individual arias appear occasional on recital discs and there is a good recording available on CPO featuring Ann Hallenberg and Siri Karoline Thornhill that is definitely worth a listen.

Handel might have called it an operetta but this is an opera of surprises. As well as some beautifully crafted arias – especially for Tirinto – I do believe that Imeneo features the only trio in one of his operas bar Orlando. And it has to be said that there are similarities between the two. Indeed there is a sophistication to Handel’s music for Imeneo – the sometimes abrupt harmonic changes as well as the sometimes distinctive structure of the vocal and instrumental lines – that belies the impression of Imeneo’s simplicity.

Listening last night, it made me think that perhaps Handel was making something of a statement to his audience. Perhaps a not-so-subtle attempt to show them what they might be missing if his Italian operas were to fail. Fortunately for us all he took that genius and applied it to his oratorios.

From the overture Hogwood and his ensemble dug into the music with an innate sense of musicianship and infectious enthusiasm.

As you would expect of the Academy of Ancient Music and Hogwood himself, it was sprightly and rhythmically alert performance. Due care was given to dynamics and – with the current Baroque vogue for over-embellishment – the da capo ornamentation was very restrained.

And the soloists were – for the most part – very strong.

Lucy Crowe was on excellent form as Clomiri. Her bright and lush soprano was perfectly suited to the music and she cut through the coloratura of the role with ease. From her first aria V’é una infelice she demonstrated formidable technique with an innate sense of style with its hushed da capo. And her Third Act aria, Se ricordar ten vuoi was suitably agile and clean.

Renata Pokupić’s Tirinto was a similarly strong performance. Her rich mezzo may not have always carried over the orchestra but she invested her singing with real panache and passion. A personal highlight was her aria in the Third Act. With fine and beautifully articulated playing from the strings, Pieno il core raised the emotional temperature of this Arcadian opera by more than a couple of degrees. And in Sorge nell’alma she showed off her formidable technique.

The title character Imeneo was strongly performed by Vittorio Prato. His Italianate baritone suited the role like a glove. In both his arias – according to the programme written for William Savage who was relatively inexperienced – he sailed through the music with a burnished and even tone throughout. Stephan Loges provided a fine foil as Argenio. His simile aria on Andronicus and the Lion was beautifully delivered as was his opening aria, Di Cieca notte, even if his overall performance was slightly marred by some sluggish embellishments at times.

Sadly, the Rosmene of Rebecca Bottone was disappointing. Her bright – almost too bright – soprano was lacked depth or colour and I could her a rather distracting beat in her voice. There is no doubt that she could manage the music on the page but it was a one-dimensional portrayal. For the most part – and particularly in the mad scene – she sang but didn’t perform Rosmene.

And the AAM Chorus rounded off the performers with incredibly fine and full-bodied singing of the choruses.

So overall it was an incredibly enjoyable night.

Imeneo might never make it to the stage again – and perhaps might not be heard in London again for some time – but Hogwood and his performers have ensured that it won’t be forgotten by many of those who attended this performance.

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