Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Opera Rara

In something a little different in the opera line, I was lucky enough to be invited (thanks Damian!) to a performance presented by Opera Rara and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
at Royal Festival Hall. Woo! Opera Rara has been going for 40 years and specialises in making recordings as well as organising performances in the bel canto repertoire: Its goal is “the exploration, revival and recording of the forgotten vocal and operatic heritage of the 19th century.”

Of course, perhaps the greatest ever exponent of bel canto was the late, great Dame Joan Sutherland, and Saturday night’s performance was dedicated to her. Dame Joan was an Opera Rara Board member. Before the Orchestra launched into the overture, a smartly dressed lady appeared on stage to say a few words dedicating the evening to Dame Joan – I was surprised to recognise Australia’s own marvellous soprano, Yvonne Kenny.
Then we settled down to listen to a concert version of Rossini’s very rarely performed opera Aureliano in Palmira’ – although to judge by the overture, we were about to hear ‘The Barber of Seville’. Rossini was fond of that old aphorism, ‘if you’re on a good thing, stick to it’, and recycled some of the best bits of his music. I found the whole opera to be full of wonderful music (although the very thin story line may explain why it is so rarely staged) and the London Philharmonic under the baton of Maurizio Benini quite fantastic. The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir performed the bits that would, in a full production, be sung by various priests, maidens, Palmyran, Persian, and Roman soldiers, shepherds and shepherdesses.

The opera premiered in 1813 and was performed here and there in Italy and England up until 1831, and then fell into obscurity. The first modern performance was in 1980, and probably the last time it was performed anywhere was in 1996. So ‘yay!’ to Opera Rara for this revival!

The reason Damian was generously flinging about complimentary seats was because he was involved with coaching one of the singers – the very excellent Kenneth Tarver, who sang the title role of Caesar Aureliano. The divine Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, was sung by the magnificent soprano Catriona Smith; and the mezzo ‘trouser role’ of Arsace Prince of Persia was also wonderfully sung by Spanish singer Silva Tro Santafé. Everything impressed, from the music to the venue to the great seats.

Here's Kenneth's website  (don’t miss the photo page!)

The delightful and talented Kenneth Tarver

In an interesting tidbit, the role of Arsace was apparently the only role Rossini ever wrote for the castrato voice. Such roles are these days performed either by male counter-tenors or by female mezzo-sopranos, there being a distinct lack of castrati about nowadays, for some reason.

It was also a night for making new friends, being introduced to lots of friends of Damian – including, in a star-struck moment, the delightful Kenneth. Wound up the après-performance festivities in the pub next door with a convivial group and considered it a night very well spent.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxRPGJMQ3So : Zenobia throws her weight about (Luciana Serra in the 1980 performance) If you like the music, buy Opera Rara’s recording of this fabulous cast when it is released shortly.  

Miss P. Explains Life

And moving now from early nineteenth century music to the real meaning of life, I cannot leave this post without sharing Miss Pandora's latest insights, as shared by her Mama:

     Pan told me this on the way back from school today: "Bees eat pollen, and they make honey. But they don't eat honey! They eat pollen with their little teeth."

     She then went on to say "But trees don't eat anything." I told her that trees got their food from the sun through their leaves and drank water from the ground. She opened her eyes very wide and said "That is very strange and silly!"

     She learned lots of things at school today it seems. In the bath tonight she told me that the tooth fairy has wings and come into your house to brush your teeth in circles. :P

    I was a bit sad over the weekend. Pan tried to comfort me: "It's ok, Mama. Boys are not, o'course, girls. Girls are, o'course, girls. And some girls don't get ticklish on their belly, did you know that?"

I didn't know that Miss Pan, but now you mention it, "o'course!"

Miss Pan catches up on her reading

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