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Next up at SOH:
Thursday August 24th at 2:30 pm.
( Finish around 6:30 pm. )
Lohengrin was first performed at Weimar under the direction of Liszt, after Wagner, having sided with the revolutionaries in Dresden, had taken refuge in Switzerland.
The work makes use of the technique Wagner had now more fully developed of leitmotifs, leading motifs associated with ideas or characters in the drama. Here the first-act prelude is based on the motif of the Holy Grail, followed, as the work goes on, by some 36 more significant motifs. These include the motif of the forbidden question.
Some of the best-known music is found in the prelude to the third act, leading to the very well-known Wedding March. Familiar vocal excerpts must also include Elsa’s dream, Einsam, in trüben Tagen (Alone in days of trouble), in which she sees a vision of the knight who will save her, and her later thanks for his championship, Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen so traurig oft erfüllt (You breezes who answered my often sad complaints). Lohengrin’s answer to the forbidden question is given in the moving In fernem Land(In distant land).
ACT 1: In 10th-century Antwerp King Henry urges the support of Brabant against Hungary. Friedrich von Telramund accuses Elsa of having killed her brother Gottfried in order to usurp the dukedom that he now claims for himself. The matter is to be settled by combat, and Elsa now prays for her champion to come forward in answer to the Herald’s challenge. The mysterious knight Lohengrin appears, in a boat drawn by a swan, and, making Elsa promise never to ask his name or origin, defeats Telramund, sparing his life.
ACT 2: Ortrud and Telramund now plan their revenge, planting the seeds of doubt in Elsa’s mind. The Herald announces the banishment of Telramund and the assumption of the title Protector by the unnamed knight, who will that day marry Elsa, whose doubts now grow, with Telramund accusing Lohengrin of sorcery.
ACT 3: Finally, in the bridal chamber, she asks him the question. Telramund bursts in, and is killed by Lohengrin, who then agrees to answer Elsa’s question in the presence of the people. Before the King’s judgement seat he reveals his name, Lohengrin, his parentage, as a son of Parsifal, and his role as a servant of the Holy Grail, with power that depended on not revealing his name. He tells Elsa that her brother would have come back to her, after a year together, but now he must go, as he came. The swan that draws his boat is revealed, however, as Gottfried, bewitched by Ortrud, and restored to life again as Duke of Brabant. Elsa now falls back dead in her brother’s arms.
Tuesday August 29th at 2:00 pm.
( Finish around 4:05 pm. )
The Bolshoi revives The Golden Age
Ten years after it was last performed, the Bolshoi Ballet brought back The Golden Age. The ballet was first presented at the Kirov Theatre in 1930, with, as its central theme, the battle and triumph of the proletariat against the evil bourgeois. Surprisingly, given the storyline, it was the score that was the subject of political criticism. Consequently, the ballet was presented only 18 times and disappeared into obscurity until a half century later, when the composer’s widow asked Yuri Grigorovich, then Director of the Bolshoi Ballet, to restage the ballet.
© Damir Yusupov | Boshoi Theatre
The new version premiered at the Bolshoi in 1982 with sets by Simon Virsaladze and a completely new libretto with a love story as its central focus. The love story necessitated the addition of some lyrical music to the original score: the Lento and the Andante from the composer’s first and second piano concertos, respectively. The conflict in the original production was recast as a clash between fishermen – the idealistic and morally superior workers – and society’s criminal elements.
Thirty-four years later, with the Soviet Union gone, the ballet is rather dated: maudlin political déjà vu. But without the political overlay, the story is basically about true love overcoming obstacles and good triumphing over evil – a theme not unfamiliar in the ballet repertoire. And – as in many ballets – the total commitment of great artists interpreting the lead roles can overcome a libretto’s deficiencies. On the opening night, three of the four leads rose to the challenge.
SYNOPSIS: Rita (Nina Kaptsova) meets Boris (Ruslan Skvortsov) in a town square where he is participating in a political theatre performance by young fishermen. When she leaves abruptly, he searches for her and eventually finds her at the Golden Age restaurant, a hangout for spot for Nepmen (businessmen under the short-lived New Economic Policy (NEP) that allowed private enterprise in some areas of the economy in the 1920s).
Jacques (Mikhail Lobukhin) and Margot are cabaret dancers performing in this restaurant, and Boris is surprised to find that Margot is the Rita that he has just met. After the performance, Rita and Boris reconnect happily, watched by a jealous Jacques. Unbeknownst to Rita, Jacques is in fact Yashka, the leader of a criminal gang. His friend Lyuska (Ekaterina Krysanova) lures two drunken Nepmen to an ambush where the gang robs both and murders one.
Upon Yashka’s return to the restaurant dressed as Jacques, he catches sight of Boris and Rita dancing, and picks a quarrel with Boris, but Rita intervenes and Jacques decamps. Once alone, Boris and Rita declare their love to each other. Later, Yashka tries to win Rita’s affections, but she rejects him and leaves to find Boris. Yashka and his gang follow her and when they find her with Boris, the latter is attacked. However, outnumbered by Boris’s workmates and friends who come to his rescue, they are chased off.
After performing again at the Golden Age, Rita decides to abandon her life as a cabaret dancer and join Boris, but a jealous Yashka prevents her. Lyuska overhears him and in a jealous rage attacks Yashka with a knife and in the ensuing struggle, he kills her. Taking Rita as a hostage, Yashka tries to escape, but is caught by Boris and his friends. Rita is freed and reunited with Boris, and they dance together before joining their friends for a celebration in the town square.
© Damir Yusupov | Bolshoi Theatre
Skvortsov is not a dancer in the heroic Bolshoi mold, and his entrance and some early scenes with Yashka lacked energy and power. But as the story progressed, providing much-needed psychological motivation, his dancing fired up and he embodied the story’s conquering hero. Skortsov’s strength in the role lies in his dramatic ability and expressiveness, perfectly matched by Kaptsova – a supremely musical and dramatic ballerina. Together, they shared a deep emotional connection and believably expressed an initial attraction that grows into deep love. The music from Schostakovich’s piano concertos in the two major pas de deux is intensely but gently romantic, and Kaptsova and Skvortsov embraced and perfectly expressed its charged emotional depth.
Lobhukin is a very strong actor who excels in dramatic roles and his portrayal of Yashka was stunning: an electrifying sociopathic amalgam of physical allure, lasciviousness, jealousy, rage, menace, and violence. Whether as Yashka or as Jacques, he dominated the stage. Krysanova is a strong dramatic dancer and surprisingly, her Lyuska did not create much of an impression, lacking the overt sensuality, cynicism, and decadence the role requires. Vyacheslav Lopatin as the master of ceremonies danced with his usual technical perfection and the corps de ballet danced with great energy and enthusiasm.
Friday September 1st at 2:00 pm.
( Finish around 4:15 pm. )
Love conquers all in Berlioz’s sparkling take on Much Ado About Nothing
The age-old premise of verbal sparring to mask true feelings of love is employed to magnificent effect in Béatrice et Bénédict.
Berlioz selected the sunniest and funniest elements of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothingand set them to ravishing music to create this witty love-hate duel. The opera’s overture explodes with a buoyant sense of fun. The sublime Act I duet-nocturne has been described by one critic as ‘a marvel of indescribable lyrical beauty’.
Seen through the unique vision of Laurent Pelly, this comic gem makes its long-awaited Glyndebourne premiere at Festival 2016.
Béatrice et Bénédict, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, review: ‘The beauty of the playing and the physical comedy are redeeming elements’
Glyndebourne Festival Opera programmes a major work by Berlioz almost universally forgotten.
Full marks to Glyndebourne for staging Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict, a major work almost universally forgotten. It’s a backwards-through-a-hedge love-story, hard to characterise: Berlioz described it as “a caprice written with the point of a needle”. He was inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado to write his own (verbose) libretto, and he only occasionally allows his characters – and his audience – to luxuriate in bel canto beauty, preferring to cut the sweetness of his often very sweet music with acidulated irony.
Director Laurent Pelly presents the opening scene with surreal wit, the chorus emerging like mechanical puppets from three giant boxes, but thereafter his habitual inventiveness deserts him: towers of cardboard boxes enact a slow and meaningless dance round the stage for the remainder of the first act, to be replaced by a forest of white chairs for the second. The lovely duets and trios offer carte blanche for visual magic, but Pelly’s rigid scheme flatly rejects that offer.
Yet the beauty of the playing (Antonello Manacorda in the pit) and the physical comedy of the acting are redeeming elements. Stephanie d’Oustrac and Paul Appleby are irresistible in the title roles – her delicate vocal control and his generous tenor warmth make entirely credible the way her fizzing fury and his defiant cynicism are gradually eroded to reveal passionately beating hearts.
The opera by Berlioz sets one element in Shakespeare’s play, introducing a further comic element in the maestro di cappella Somarone, but omitting the intrigue of Don John, with Hero’s supposed dishonour and death, before all ends well. The overture makes use of melodies from the opera and is sometimes heard in concert performance.
SYNOPSIS: Benedick, a confirmed bachelor, exchanges jibes with Beatrice, refusing to follow the example of Claudio, who is to marry Hero.
Attempts are made, by subterfuge, to persuade Beatrice and Benedick that each is in love with the other, and, with apparent reluctance, they agree to marry, as Claudio and Hero are married.
Thursday September 7th at 2:00 pm.
( Finish around 5:20 pm. )
The two versions of Boris Godunov differ in many respects. In addition to the revision, the work was re-scored by Rimsky-Korsakov for performance in 1896. The first version ends with the death of Boris, while the Polish scenes and the final success of the false Dmitry belong to the later version, although in this the two scenes of the fourth act are often reversed, to allow the opera still to close with the death of Boris. The opera provides a major role in that of Boris Godunov, famously taken by singers such as Chaliapin, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Boris Christoff. In whatever version it is a monumental element in Russian operatic repertoire.
There are so many variations on the order and number of scene’s the following is a generic version…
SYNOPSIS: Boris Godunov has had the rightful heir to the empire, Dmitry, murdered and now is proclaimed Tsar. Time passes and Russia is in turmoil, in spite of the Tsar’s efforts to rule well.
In a monastery cell the monk Pimen, who has been writing a history of the times, tells his young novice Grigory of the events leading to the triumph of Boris. Grigory, now inspired to seek justice and identifying himself with the murdered prince, is sought by the authorities, but seeks to cast suspicion on the disreputable wandering monk Varlaam.
Boris Godunov, in the Kremlin palace, suffers torments of remorse, as revolt threatens from Poland.
There the pretender Dmitry declares his love for Marina Mniszek, and they are urged by the Jesuit Rangoni to march on Moscow, leading an army of Polish nobles.
In the Kremlin Boris is haunted by his fears, more so when he learns of miracles worked at the grave of Dmitry, the boy whose murder had brought him the throne. As monks chant their prayers and the council of boyars gather round him, Boris dies.
In a final scene the pretender Dmitry leads his army to victory, while the Simpleton laments the fate of Russia.