Tag: Purcell

Purcell – Dido and Aeneas / Les Violons du Roy / Carnegie Hall 4-12-15

I was reminded of one thing during this concert, and I think I may have learned a second thing. The first is the difference between your average run of the mill good but not stunning soprano voice and your international-stardom-and-obsessive-fanbase-creating voice. Except for Hélène Guilmette (Belinda) and Hank Neven (Aeneas) the other singers in this concert (a series of scenes and arias and instrumental music from Purcell’s operas in the first half, and then Dido and Aeneas after the jump) were also members of the chorus. I registered a series of light pretty soprano and mezzo voices in the various scenes – and then when Frau R sang “oh, let me weep” from The Fairy Queen suddenly every molecule of air in that hall was alive with sound.

It was a difference of volume and color and also a difference in style. One could probably claim with some justification that Röschmann was not operating in quite the same mode as the other singers. This is an opera with cackling witches (ably and humorously sung by Vicki St. Pierre, Lesley Emma Bousa and Shiela Dietrich), a light-hearted sailor song and charming little interlude airs in odd places, like the Second Woman’s “oft she visits” number in the hunt/storm scene. The scene from The Fairy Queen during the first part of the concert, with the belching drunken poet in which the music itself sounds a little drunk to match, or the chaconne from ditto a little later, is from a different opera, but not a different planet. It’s not that Dido and Aeneas isn’t the intended to be serious or moving – the beauty and delicacy of the instrumental music is proof enough of that – it’s just seriousness of a particular style.  And then you’re hit with Röschmann’s “peace and I are strangers” and it’s like whoa where did THAT come from. But of course it’s obvious where it came from : it’s Dorothea Röschmann offering us her whole soul and beating heart from the very first moment of the performance. Whether that is how you like your Purcell is a different question. I am happy to go on record stating that I am more than happy to hear Purcell performed like Strauss if it works – and as far as I’m concerned, in this case it worked.  The duet with Aeneas before he leaves Carthage, which appears in so many musical and textual guises in so many different operatic versions of this story that I have simply tagged it in my head as “Dido and Aeneas are fighting” – whatever you call it, it was electric. And Röschmann’s characteristic  style does not rub the music the wrong way – in both “oh, let me weep” from The Fairy Queen and in Dido’s final lament, the instrumental accompaniment is subtle rather than torrential (in some parts, just the harpsichord, lute and a violin) but it’s more than capable of holding everything that she was pouring into it. (No doubt Richard Egarr, whose harpsichord stylings I have long admired, and Les Violons du Roy had something to do with the this too.)

And by the end, the drama had caught up to the interpretation. Dido* as performed by Frau R operates with this massive emotional force that makes the other characters seem less substantial – not poorly sung by any means, just not as powerful or vibrant, while Dido is just a sort of continuous storm of feeling. The “thy hand, Belinda” recitative that leads into “when I am laid in earth” was incredible – it was suddenly so intimate, and yet the overall scale had not changed: this was big enough for an opera stage but subtle as a song recital, and the way Röschmann shaped the music and text right then was one of those moments where she’s singing in English but it feels and sounds the way her singing does when she’s singing in German. I felt as if I was being shown precisely how opera is created, how something done on so large a scale can also be so subtle.

Stray observations: the scene where Dido and Aeneas are about to fall into one another’s arms – it is unclear to me why Belinda is in the room, other than to urge Dido on. Seems to me like that could get awkard real fast. Also, if you ever wondered how to say “come on, what could go wrong?” in sevententh-century English, I think it’s “fear no danger to ensue.”

After sticking around to clap for a very long time with everyone else, I went over to Alice Tully Hall for a second concert that I do not think I did full justice to as a listener because I was kind of wiped from the first one. This was a song recital by Sarah Connolly. (Where I wolfed a brownie during intermission in order to remain alert and also got to meet some Twitter buddies!)

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*Every time I type “Dido” and then a space, my phone thinks I’m trying to type DiDonato. I guess this is what you might call a textbook case of reaping what you sow.

Purcell – The Fairy Queen / Styriarte Festival 6-21-14

The recent production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen broadcast live from the Styriarte Festival reminded me again how much I enjoy Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s conducting. This came to mind during the overture, at various little moments of transition from one mood to the next – and just in general at many points throughout the performance. It’s something about the pacing, or the rhythm – hard to pin down in words, but Harnoncourt conveys just the right amount of energy with this music, so it’s engaging to listen to, but not in a way that sounds unidiomatic for Baroque music. (It feels not like “baroque music” but just simply “music”.) For me, watching this was essentially a very pleasant two and a half hours of well-executed Purcell, punctuated at intervals with “hey, there’s Dorothea Röschmann again!” (and Florian Boesch and Martina Jankova and a number of other people whose names I did not recognize, including a tenor, Joshua Ellicott, who gave a very lovely rendition of the autumn song in the ‘four seasons’ section in the second half.)

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Patricia Petibon – Nouveau Monde

And now for something slightly different. It’s Patricia Petibon singing a collection of French, Spanish and English baroque arias and songs. The title of the recording is “new world,” and so it makes sense that we’ve got the English, the French and the Spanish, and via the two excerpts from Les Indes galantes, I guess at least baroque representations of Native Americans. (But if were talking about the colonial world, what about the Dutch? I ask you, what about the Dutch? Then again, I’m not sure that “Patricia Petibon sings the Dutch baroque” is necessarily a winning concept, as far as marketing goes. This not intended as a criticism of Petibon. I would be skeptical even of, say, Dorothea Röschmann and Vesselina Kasarova singing the Dutch baroque, together, in matching dresses, with a halftime performance by Joyce DiDonato. I mean, I’d buy that in in a second – wouldn’t you? – but that is not really an argument for the soundness of the idea.)

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Purcell – King Arthur / Salzburg 2004 (3)

(Previous section here.)

Purcell wrote some wonderful music for this drama. I particularly like the frost scene in Act III, where you hear the shivers in the music. Further along in this same scene, they have Love dancing to the music with a fan – there’s something about this that picks up on the rhythmic quality of the music in a really clever and charming way, even though in a literal sense it has nothing to do with what is happening.

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Purcell – King Arthur / Salzburg 2004 (2)

(Previous section here.)

Because this is staged in Salzburg, the English dialogue of the play has been translated into German. The sung texts remain in English. You might think this would be strange, but for whatever reason, I didn’t find it jarring. And the production gets some good mileage out of the language-swapping; in Act V one of the characters begins a speech about the future glory of Britain, in English, which is interrupted by someone else reminding the speaker, in German, that the audience might not understand what he’s saying, and perhaps the speech should be in German – it’s quite funny. (And it shows, happily I think, that WWII was a long time ago.)

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Purcell – The Fairy Queen / Glyndebourne 2009 (3)

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I spent most of this production playing “spot Lucy Crowe.” She first turns up in Act III as part of the entertainment Titania stages for Bottom’s delight. They’ve got her costumed like a refugee from a J.Crew catalog shoot, but she sounds lovely. I had never heard her sing before, although I had encountered a lot of glowing reviews – and I can certainly hear the reason for the glow.

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Purcell – The Fairy Queen / Glyndebourne 2009 (2)

(Previous section here.)

The designers of this production were clearly having a lot of fun with it. You get gestures at 17th-century stagecraft, as when, near the end, Apollo is lowered from the ceiling in a chariot, and he’s wearing a period-appropriate wig and suit and is covered in gold paint. You also get plenty of modern touches, e.g. Oberon and all the male fairies wearing black suits; when Adam and Eve they appear at the end (the original writers of this thing truly pulled out all the stops for the denouement) they are first seen in nothing but fig leaves but end up in a hoodie, shorts and flip-flops (Adam) and a tacky dress/blouse/heels (Eve). I think the goal is “remember this is baroque! but we’re not going to be stuffy about it.”

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Purcell – The Fairy Queen / Glyndebourne 2009 (1)

I have achieved what I hope will remain a personal best this year in terms of musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have seen three. Two live (the Met’s Enchanted Island and a ballet with music by Mendelssohn) and this one, on DVD. I feel that I have rehearsed the concept of ‘musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘ very thoroughly. I do not claim to understand it in a deep and profound way. But I do know everyone’s names now.

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When first Amintas

Here are two versions of a song by Henry Purcell, “When first Amintas sued for a kiss.” I believe it is theater music, of which Purcell composed a lot, but I can’t recall right now. The first one is Emma Kirkby and the second, beginning at 1.58, is Christine Brandes.

I both enjoy and detest Emma Kirkby’s voice, but that is not the issue right now. Both she and Brandes are native English speakers (Kirkby is English and Brandes is American) and so there is none of the odd inflection or difficulties with ‘th’ or ‘wh’ that you sometimes hear when non-Anglophones perform this type of music. I bring this up because these are both singers who can be expected to work with the details of the text very easily.

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