Saturday, December 3, 2016
Jasper Hope, former CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, is running the new opera house in Dubai. Last week he booked a series with the BBC Proms. Today, he’s importing Welsh National Opera (see press release below). Welsh National Opera to Perform Madam Butterfly and La bohème at Dubai Opera in March 2017 Dubai Opera is proud to host the renowned Welsh National Opera (WNO) for the first time at the stunning venue in March next year (2017). Performing two of the world’s most beloved Giacomo Puccini operas; Madam Butterfly from 2nd – 4th March followed by La bohème from 9th – 11th March, tickets will go on sale for all performances on 9 November at 9am. We are delighted that these performances are part of UK/UAE 2017, a year of Creative Collaboration led by the British Council, who are also supporting a programme of learning activities with Welsh National Opera. This will involve WNO working with schools and colleges across Dubai, where young people will have the chance to take part in workshops and masterclasses with WNO singers and orchestral players and will get to see behind the scenes of an opera company at open rehearsals. WNO will also be offering ‘Come and Sing’ workshops where anyone who enjoys singing can get involved, and a special Access All Arias – a pop-up opera event taking place in public spaces.
Levente Molnár and Sondra Radvanovsky in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper Puccini ’s opera Manon Lescaut is based on the 18th-century novel by French writer Abbé Prévost . Both works tell the story of a young woman forced to make a choice: life with her lover, Des Grieux, but suffered under the burden of poverty; or a life where, in exchange for her body, wealthy men will keep her in luxury. It’s a story just as relevant now as it was in Puccini’s time. Jonathan Kent ’s Royal Opera production is not intended as a realistic depiction of modern slavery – and yet Kent and designer Paul Brown draw clear parallels between Manon’s life as Puccini tells it, and the experience of contemporary victims of modern slavery around the world today. Three in particular stand out: The first is that – like many victims of contemporary slavery – Manon is not kidnapped or captured by her exploiter by physical violence, but rather, chooses a life of exploitation to escape poverty. With no qualifications or alternative ways to secure a livelihood, Manon feels she has little choice but to accept a degrading life with the elderly Geronte. This is a reality for the more than 21 million victims of forced labour today , whose vulnerability to exploitation is driven primarily by poverty. Lacking access to decent work, millions of people today are forced to accept dangerous, degrading or high-risk jobs. These are often in industries in which forced labour is known to thrive, such as fishing, mining, garments, gold or agriculture, or in the sex, hotel and hospitality industries. Businesses or individuals looking to profit from modern slavery deliberately seek out the vulnerable and exploit them. The second parallel lies in how money and psychological abuse are used to encage and disempower victims, and prevent them from leaving exploitative situations. In the opera, Manon feels unable to leave Geronte’s house due to psychological abuse and financial insecurity. In one powerful scene, Manon has an opportunity to escape but hesitates to leave without her jewellery – the keys to her freedom. While searching for her emeralds, she is caught by the guards and thrown in jail. Victims of modern slavery often face similar constraints on their freedom to exit. The threat of poverty and starvation keep them bound to their exploiter. Debt bondage, the under- or non-payment of wages and the retention of passports or identity papers is also used, as well as violence, threats of violence, emotional and psychological abuse. Like Manon, although these victims face exploitative, degrading and unsafe conditions, without the money they’d need to secure a better life, many are unable to exit. The third parallel that stands out is the struggle for freedom, even amid bondage and exploitation. Until the moment of her death, Manon attempts to escape the constraints placed upon her freedom by poverty, Geronte, her family, the police and others. She strives to carve out intimacy, genuine connection and later a life with Des Grieux, though the toll taken on her by her harsh life means that she dies before she is able to realize this dream. By portraying Manon not as a helpless victim, but rather as a person who is making choices about her best options for improving her life – and who struggles to maintain connection and love in the face of bondage – the opera captures perfectly the reality of millions in the contemporary global economy, who continue to carve out lives and livelihoods even as they face severe constraints on their freedom. Manon Lescaut runs until 12 December 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Shanghai Grand Theatre and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover Awards.
Royal Opera House, London Jonathan Kent’s contemporary take on Puccini’s opera doesn’t always work, but Sondra Radvanovsky shines as the tragic heroine and Pappano brings precision and power to the scoreIt was with this, his third opera, that Puccini made his international breakthrough. In 1894, a year after its Turin premiere, music critic and later playwright George Bernard Shaw welcomed Manon Lescaut to Covent Garden, even hazarding a prescient guess that, on this basis alone, “Puccini seems to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals.” Founded on the 34-year-old Italian’s exploratory, post-Wagnerian harmony and conspicuous flair for orchestration, the score’s remarkable technical assurance impresses again in this revival of Jonathan Kent’s production, first seen two years ago. Continue reading...
Sondra Radvanovsky and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper Wonderful to hear Sondra Radvanovsky at Covent Gdn: so much voice! As amazing in verismo as she is in bel canto #ROHLescaut — Charles Tansley (@SquareAlbert) November 22, 2016 #ROHlescaut Pappano and the ROHOrchestra are magic together, like Des Grieux and Manon. They sound dull with other lovers/conductors. — Emile Myburgh (@emilemyburgh) November 22, 2016 Great to hear some proper stonking voices in #ROHlescaut ... Sondra Radvanovsky sounding glorious. — Mark Pullinger (@larkingrumple) November 22, 2016 Sondra Radvanovsky, Emily Edmonds and Eric Halfvarson in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper Not at all convinced by #ROHlescaut - hideous nonsensical staging, no emotional connection between leads or leads and audience — Josh Spero (@joshspero) November 22, 2016 Wonderful to hear @SondraRadvan scoring a big success in #ROHlescaut - thrilling heft, great delicacy amd eveything in between. Brava! — Ed Beveridge (@dredbeveridge) November 22, 2016 Can't go wrong w/ Puccini &the excellent talent tonight,but I have a few thoughts running in my head.1 of them is disappointment #ROHlescaut — Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) November 22, 2016 Nicholas Crawley, Aleksandrs Antonenko and Sondra Radvanovsky in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH 2016. Photo by Bill Cooper Just seen #manonlescaut @RoyalOperaHouse AMAZING voices! But I can't get over the weirdness of the setting... #ROHlescaut — Sonia Grunenwald (@soniagrunenwald) November 23, 2016 loved the Katie Price-inspired hot-pink boudoir in Act II. Sondra Radvanovsky smoulders! #ROHlescaut — Claire Jackson (@claireiswriting) November 23, 2016 Impressive production of Manon, exceptional singers, conductor Pappano perfect #ROHlescaut — Alessandro (@Pari_Siamo) November 23, 2016 Press Reviews: Evening Standard ★★★ The Stage ★★★ The Telegraph ★★★ The Times ★★ What did you think of Manon Lescaut? Let us know via the comments below. Manon Lescaut runs 22 November — 12 December 2016. Tickets are still available .
Kristine Opolais as Manon Lescaut and Jonas Kaufmann as Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, The Royal Opera © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014 Manon Lescaut was Puccini ’s first great success – despite a difficult birth. No fewer than seven people worked on the libretto , and none of them found an effective way to condense Abbé Prévost ’s novel into the opera Puccini wanted to write. The result leaves out large chunks of the story and in the wrong hands might have led to an operatic mess. Yet from it Puccini created a work of devastating emotional power. How did he do it? We can get a glimpse of the many different elements at play by exploring what, given the rest of Puccini’s work, is one of Manon Lescaut’s most unusual features: its intermezzo, or musical interlude. Puccini wrote little purely instrumental music. In his operas the orchestra rarely speaks on its own for extended periods – besides the prelude to Edgar and the intermezzo in Suor Angelica there’s little that shares the independence of Manon Lescaut’s intermezzo. That’s not to say the orchestra is unimportant in Puccini’s music: far from it, with the orchestra most commonly holding the meat of the melodic content beneath the singers’ simpler lines, and his genius for orchestration crucial in the specific scene-setting for which he is so celebrated . But when he decides to write an extended instrumental passage without any singing at all, he’s taking an unusual step. One simple reason for taking that step is those gaps in Manon’s story. At the end of Act II, Manon and her lover Des Grieux have been discovered by Geronte, the elderly man who keeps Manon in the lap of luxury. Des Grieux begs Manon to flee with him, but she dithers about which jewels she should bring with her. Geronte returns with the police and Manon is arrested. Act III opens in Le Havre, from where Manon will be deported to America. The intervening intermezzo represents Manon’s sentencing and her transportation to Le Havre, and Des Grieux’s desperate efforts to free her and then, finally, to follow her wherever she goes. Rather than show us all this, Puccini efficiently provides a five-minute instrumental interlude as a stand-in. But – of course – Puccini is interested in much more than efficiency. Earlier gaps in the story are passed over without comment, most notably Manon and Des Grieux’s idyll before she leaves him for Geronte (which should come between Acts I and II). The lovers’ contentment does not interest Puccini, who is fired more by tracking the progress of a doomed love. At this central point in the opera he makes sophisticated use of musical material from across the opera to show us how far the lovers have come, and to foretell the terrible end that awaits them. The intermezzo begins with a contorted passage for solo string ensemble, the instruments passing between themselves a chromatic, yearning melodic fragment that recalls Manon’s first words to Des Grieux: ‘Manon Lescaut mi chiamo’ (my name is Manon Lescaut). The context is very different from that innocent chance encounter, but the echo is unmistakable. Twelve bars later Puccini rewards us with a luscious melody (itself made of smaller blocks spun together into a beautiful long line), shared, for now, in hushed unison between the flutes and violas. This is drawn, as so much of the intermezzo’s following melodic material, from Manon and Des Grieux’s extended duet of recrimination and forgiveness from Act II – this part in particular from Manon’s whispered request ‘Un’altra volta ancora, deh, mi perdona!’ (Forgive me one more time!). One can imagine Des Grieux alone, reliving this moment in his mind. Puccini gradually builds up the sound, adding more instruments to the unison line and dramatic interjections from the accompanying sections, in what gradually reveals itself to be a fantasia on the Act II duet. Underneath the long lines the interior parts always bubble away, propelling the music forwards at an urgent pace. As the music builds the melody becomes frantic, and a tempestuous transition section seems to hurtle us towards disaster. At the last moment, the expected tumultuous climax is averted, and the intermezzo closes with a lulling descending motif that shines with hope – a pre-echo from the end of Act III, when Des Grieux has secured himself passage on Manon’s ship and a new life in America beckons. But the intermezzo already predicts the failure of that life, and the doom-laden opening of Act IV is unescapable. Motifs, especially when used in tragedy, have the power to make events seem inevitable. Everything that happens is the natural progression of what has gone before – which here was that first moment Des Grieux and Manon set eyes on each other. The idea has particular dramatic potency in this intermezzo: we can imagine the lovers apart, each dwelling on what has happened, and what the future might hold. The lyric beauty of the intermezzo and its close musical relationship to the rest of the opera – and the fact that it takes place with the curtain down and without a note being sung – suggest what it is that makes Manon Lescaut so compelling. Rather than get caught up in details of the plot, Puccini obsesses us with these two people, and the love that destroys them. Manon Lescaut runs 22 November–12 December 2016. Tickets are still available . The production is a co-production with Shanghai Grand Theatre and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation Cover Awards.
Sofia Fomina, Christophe Mortagne and Vittorio Grigòlo in Schlesinger’s Les Contes d'Hoffmann, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’, also known as the Doll Aria from Les Contes d’Hoffmann , is infamously difficult to sing. It is sung in Act I by Olympia, a mechanical doll who the hapless Hoffmann believes to be human. For much of the act, Olympia simply says ‘oui’ (yes) to anything asked of her, but Offenbach more than makes up for this in her aria. Written for the French soprano Adèle Isaac – a star of Paris’s Opéra-Comique known for her interpretations of challenging roles such as Marie (La Fille du régiment ), Isabelle (Robert le diable ) and Juliette (Roméo et Juliette ) – it is a virtuoso tour-de-force, packed with stratospheric coloratura. Where does it take place in the opera? The Doll Aria takes place in Act I, when the inventor Spalanzani hosts a party at his Paris home. In the previous scene, the gullible Hoffmann – deaf to the warnings of his friend Nicklausse – is duped by Spalanzani into believing that Olympia is the inventor’s daughter. Spalanzani is helped in his ruse by the fiendish scientist Coppélius, who sells Hoffmann a pair of magical glasses that make Olympia appear fully human. When Olympia performs her song for Spalanzani’s party guests, Hoffmann is so impressed that he determines to marry the doll. What do the lyrics mean? The words of Olympia’s two-verse aria are self-consciously sentimental and repetitive, as befits her mechanical state. In the first verse she sings of how the songs of birds awaken thoughts of love in her young soul; in the second of how her loving heart is moved by songs and sighs. Both verses end with the coy refrain ‘this is the lovely song of Olympia’. Read Jonathan Burton’s translation below, created for The Royal Opera: Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia!Les oiseaux dans la charmille, Dans les cieux l’astre du jour Tout parle à la jeune fille d’amour! Voilà la chanson gentille, la chanson d’Olympia! The birds in the bower, The sun in the sky To a maiden everything speaks of love! This is Olympia’s pretty song. Everything that sings and echoes and sighs in turn Stirs a maiden’s heart that trembles with love. This is Olympia’s sweet little song. What makes the music so memorable? Offenbach’s music perfectly characterizes a mechanical doll, with a pretty melody sung to a waltz rhythm, and delicate harp and flute accompaniment reminiscent of the sound of musical boxes (possibly mimicking the real musical clockwork dolls popular in late 19th-century France). However, Olympia isno ordinary automaton; her melody line becomes progressively more ornate during the aria’s first verse (particularly in the flamboyant vocalise that ends its refrain) and by the second verse she’s in full exhibitionist mode, decorating her melody with as many trills, flourishes, roulades and stratospherically high notes as any coloratura soprano could wish for. She pays the price for this display though – during both refrains her mechanics run down, causing her to collapse until Spalanzani winds her up again. The second time, he clearly does his job rather too well, as Olympia soars to new heights in the hyperactive closing cadenza. Hoffmann’s other musical highlights Les Contes d’Hoffmann contains a glut of wonderful arias, duets and ensembles. The protagonist’s solo numbers include the Prologue’s ‘Chanson de Kleinzach’ in which the poet moves from wit to romantic reverie and back, and the hedonistic Act II aria ‘Amis, l’amour tendre et reveur, erreur!’. The devilish villains naturally get plenty of good tunes, including Lindorf’s cynical and boastful ‘Dans les rôles d’amoureux langoureux’. Among the duets, the best known is perhaps the sensual Barcarolle ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’ that opens the Giulietta act; a lesser-known treat is Hoffmann and Antonia’s poignant ‘C’est une chanson d’amour’, one of the opera’s few genuinely romantic episodes. Other highlights include the Prologue’s ebullient drinking chorus, Act II’s dramatic septet (sung as Hoffmann realizes that Giulietta has stolen his reflection) and Antonia’s nostalgic aria ‘Elle a fui, la tourterelle’ that opens Act III. Classic recordings Les Contes d’Hoffmann doesn’t lack good recordings. EMI’s bargain box-set conducted by André Cluytens features Nicolai Gedda as Hoffmann, one of his greatest roles; his duet with Victoria de los Ángeles ’s Antonia is unforgettable. Domingo fans can enjoy the 1972 Decca recording with the inimitable Joan Sutherland as the three heroines; another Domingo option is the 1981 live Salzburg recording , with José van Dam in devilishly good form as the four villains, conducted by James Levine . Kent Nagano ’s 2011 recording (Erato) features Roberto Alagna as Hoffmann and Natalie Dessay on sparkling form as Olympia, among other delights. There’s a good choice of DVD recordings too, including The Royal Opera’s production with Domingo as Hoffmann . More to discover Offenbach’s only other opera (Die Rheinnixen ) hasn’t ever entered the repertory, but several of his operettas are easily available on CD and DVD. Orphée aux Enfers (with its famous can-can ) and La Belle Hélène offer a hilarious take on Greek myths, or you can luxuriate in the hedonistic Paris party scene with La Vie parisienne . La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is worth a listen too, particularly for the heroine’s rousing arias. On a more serious note, Massenet ’s opera Werther offers another take on the romantic artist searching for the ideal woman, as does Gounod ’s Faust , where the hero is prepared to sell his soul to the devil for love and youth. And if you’re after operas about artists and their love affairs, there’s always Puccini ’s much-loved La bohème . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs until 3 December 2016. Tickets are still available. The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 15 November 2016. Find your nearest cinema . The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet and Mr and Mrs Christopher W.T. Johnston.
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