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This month's ballet and opera productions are complemented by Sir András Schiff's live BBC Proms performance of Book I of J. S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier (Book II follows next month), an occasion hailed by the critic from The Independent as ‘the most riveting performance of the work I have ever heard.’

Ferdinando Paer wrote more than 50 operas, and this month we zoom in on the first performance in modern times of his Agnese (1809), which was admired by Berlioz, Chopin and Victor Hugo (who mentioned it in his Les Misérables).

Gli Intermedi della Pellegrina (1589) featured the combined effort of the most celebrated poets and musicians of the day and comprised staged interludes celebrating an Italian aristocatic wedding that reflected the full magnificence of the Medici household. We can now enjoy a modern-day recreation of that sumptuous occasion.

Finally, the contemporary face of The Royal Ballet is shown in works by three of today's leading choreographers (Christopher Wheeldon, Crystal Pite and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui), while The Royal Opera House presents two award-winning contemporary operas by George Benjamin in visually stunning productions by acclaimed director Katie Mitchell.

BACH, J.S.: Well-Tempered Clavier (The), Book 1, BWV 846-869 (A. Schiff) (NTSC)
2.110653 [DVD]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
The Well-tempered Clavier Book, 1

Sir András Schiff, Piano

Johann Sebastian Bach was undoubtedly the greatest musical thinker of his age. Dubbed ‘the Old Testament of music’ by the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, The Well-Tempered Clavier is acknowledged to be one of the most significant works ever written for the keyboard. Each of these 24 preludes and fugues encapsulates its own mood, and Bach’s delight in mixing technical strictness with freedom of expression has made this work an indispensable element of Western culture for centuries. Sir András Schiff is heralded as one of the finest Bach interpreters today, and this first complete performance at the prestigious BBC Proms was summed up as ‘stupendous’ by The Independent.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (NBD0104V)

PAER, F.: Agnese [Opera] (Teatro Regio Torino, 2019) (NTSC)
37850 [DVD]
Ferdinando PAER (1771–1839)
Dramma semiserio in two acts
Libretto by Luigi Buonavoglia
Critical Edition by Giuliano Castellani

María Rey-Joly • Markus Werba • Edgardo Rocha
Filippo Morace • Andrea Giovannini • Lucia Cirillo
Giulia Della Peruta • Federico Benetti
Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio Torino
Diego Fasolis, Conductor • Andrea Secchi, Chorus Master
Carlo Caputo, Harpsichordist • Leo Muscato, Director

Born in Parma, Ferdinando Paer wrote more than 50 operas. He composed Agnese in 1809 for a private entertainment and a company of amateur singers. In 1824, with a few changes to the score, this opera semiseria in two acts reached the Théâtre-Italien in Paris where it gained international success. Among its early admirers were Berlioz, Chopin and Victor Hugo (who mentioned it in his Les Misérables) but a few decades after its premiere it fell into oblivion. It was first revived in modern times in concert form by conductor Diego Fasolis. Finally, in 2019, with the benefit of a critical revision, it was staged at the Teatro Regio di Torino.

The plot presents several fairy-tale elements, which are convincingly realised through the stage setting.

When Agnese elopes with her beloved Ernesto, her father Uberto loses his mind and believes she is dead. He is therefore hospitalised in a mental institution, where most of the action takes place. In the Ospedale dei pazzi sympathetic doctors, security guards and administrators try to help Uberto regain his sanity, to no avail. Meanwhile Agnese, betrayed and abandoned by Ernesto, to whom she bore a girl, goes back to her father to ask for forgiveness, unaware of his troubles. Ernesto is repentant of his philandering ways and follows Agnese to win her back. The opera ends with Uberto regaining his mental clarity when he hears Agnese sing an old song, and a general reconciliation occurs.

In director Leo Muscato’s words ‘the most interesting aspect of this opera…is the irony that is present from the beginning to the end of the story’ and which imbues even the most dramatic moments.

The set design for the world premiere video of this wonderful opera comprises a series of movable boxes which are similar to carillons and open to display different environments.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (57850)

MALVEZZI, C. / MARENZIO, L. / CACCINI, G. / BARDI, G. de' / PERI, J.: Pellegrina (La) (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, 2019) (NTSC)
37856 [DVD]
Intermedi Della Pellegrina
Firenze 1589
An itinerant show in the Boboli gardens
Malvezzi • Marenzio • Caccini
De’ Bardi • Peri • De’ Cavalieri

Modo Antiquo • Federico Maria Sardelli, Conductor
Coro Ricercare Ensemble – Compagnia Dramatodìa
Alberto Allegrezza, Chorus Master • Valentino Villa, Director

Florence, 2 May 1589, marked the occasion of the wedding of the Grand Duke Ferdinando I and Christina of Lorraine, when an impressive celebration was staged to display the magnificence of the Medici household. Behind this official event lay an ambitious project that involved an incredible team of the most important poets and musicians of the time, such as Cristofano Malvezzi, Luca Marenzio, Giulio Caccini, Jacopo Peri, Emilio De’ Cavalieri and Count Giovanni De’ Bardi, who was engaged to compose the Intermedi for Girolamo Bargagli’s play La Pellegrina.

Renaissance intermediums were sumptuous musical interludes inserted between the acts of a theatrical show on allegorical and moral themes with eclectic references to classical mythology. They are considered to be the forerunners of opera.

The spectacular show, which was performed using complex stage machinery set up in Palazzo Pitti’s Boboli gardens, was such an immediate success that the intermediums were performed in the following days during another two plays.

The Six intermediums in La Pellegrina provide for choral madrigals, double and triple choirs, solo accompanied numbers and instrumental pieces, all of which were inserted into the impressive, sumptuous staging by Bernando Buontalenti.

430 years later, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in collaboration with Galleria Degli Uffizi, produced the first staging in modern times of the Intermedi della Pellegrina with an itinerant show in Palazzo Pitti’s Boboli Gardens.

Stage director Valentino Villa’s approach was to ‘attempt at an ironic historical reconstruction, [where] images blur, grafting classical mythology onto contemporary iconography’.

Conductor Federico Maria Sardelli leads Modo Antiquo and Chorus Master Alberto Allegrezza heads the Coro Ricercare Ensemble and Compagnia Dramatodìa.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (57856) and CD (CDS7856)

WHEELDON, C.: Within the Golden Hour / CHERKAOUI, S.L.: Medusa / PITE, C.: Flight Pattern [Ballets] (Royal Ballet, 2019) (NTSC)
OA1300D [DVD]
Within the Golden Hour
Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon

Beatriz Stix-Brunell • Vadim Muntagirov • Francesca Hayward
Valentino Zucchetti • Sarah Lamb • Alexander Campbell

Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui

Natalia Osipova • Olivia Cowley • Ryoichi Hirano
Matthew Ball • Ailish Tynan • Tim Mead

Flight Pattern
Choreography by Crystal Pite

Kristen McNally • Marcelino Sambé
Artists of the Royal Ballet • Francesca Chiejina

The Royal Ballet • Kevin O’Hare, Director
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House • Vasko Vassilev
Andrew Griffiths and Jonathan Lo, Conductors

The contemporary face of the Royal Ballet is shown in works from three of today’s leading choreographers.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour is based around seven couples separating and intermingling, to music by Vivaldi and Ezio Bosso and lit with rich colours suggestive of sunset.

In Flight Pattern, Crystal Pite combines Górecki’s haunting ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ with a large dance ensemble to create a poignant and passionate reflection on migration.

Between them, Medusa is a new work inspired by the Greek myth, created for The Royal Ballet by the acclaimed choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, which juxtaposes Purcell arias with an electronic score by Olga Wojciechowska.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7265D)

BENJAMIN, G.: Written on Skin / Lessons in Love and Violence [Operas] (Royal Opera House, 2013-2018) (NTSC)
OA1309BD [DVD]
Written on Skin
Christopher Purves • Barbara Hannigan • Bejun Mehta
Victoria Simmonds • Allan Clayton

Lessons in Love and Violence
Stéphanie Degout • Barbara Hannigan • Gyula Orendt
Peter Hoare • Samuel Boden • Ocean Barrington-Cook

George Benjamin, Music and Conductor • Martin Crimp, Text
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House • Katie Mitchell, Director

This collection consists of George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s two award-winning full-length operas, in visually stunning productions by critically acclaimed director Katie Mitchell.

Written on Skin has been hailed as ‘magic and irresistible … the best opera written over the last twenty years’ (Le Monde). It tells the story of a cruel and powerful Protector who asks a mysterious Boy to create an illuminated book to celebrate his wealth and family. He invites the Boy into his home, little realising that this will lead to a journey of startling, joyful and ultimately tragic self-discovery for his oppressed and much younger wife Agnès.

Drawing on the real-life relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston, Lessons in Love and Violence explores how personal relationships can have fatal political consequences. The King lives in a close but uneasy relationship with his wife Isabel, their two children and his lover Gaveston. When the King banishes his military advisor Mortimer, he sets off a chain of devastating events.

The composer conducts two superb international casts, including soprano Barbara Hannigan, who appears in the leading roles of Agnès and Isabel.

Also available in Blu-ray Video (OABD7271BD)

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