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Estival Festivals: II. Views from the U.K.

In the U.K., the term "summer festival" principally evokes the urban (the Edinburgh Festival, which begins August 14) and the pastoral: the verdant lawns and champagne of Glyndebourne (through August 30). I confess I have never been to Glyndebourne, but the amount of time available for rehearsing is still supposed to be reflected in fine, well-crafted productions. (The DVD of David McVicar's "Carmen" riveted me like a film, despite my excessive familiarity with the opera and what one might think of as the ill-suitedness of Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role; she won me over here.) "Falstaff," "The Fairy Queen," and "Rusalka" were the three new productions this season; "Rusalka," the last of the three (and the first-ever Dvorak opera at Glyndebourne), opened on July 5.
(read more after the jump)

The reviews were generally rapturous, with most critics raving about the opera debut of the stage director Melly Still. "Magnificent new production," said Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph; while John Allison, in this weekend's Sunday Telegraph, said, "It is hard to encapsulate everything about Dvorak's multifaceted masterpiece in one production, yet this comes close"). But in the Sunday Observer, Fiona Maddocks confessed her own ambivalence about the opera itself. And in the Sunday Times, Hugh Canning dismissed Still's production as "the work of a clumsy novice." There was little dispute about Jiri Belohlavek and the London Philharmonic in the pit (excellent), and the soprano Ana Maria Martinez continues to sound like one to watch (I've only heard her on CD).

The Proms is a festival that can only exist in a country with a state-sponsored broadcasting system: 76 concerts, broadcast live on radio and often on television throughout the summer. The 2009 Proms begin on Friday -- without, as Richard Morrison noted in the Times this weekend, a single American orchestra. Now there's a comment on the current state of international touring.

And then there's the new kid on the block, the Manchester International Festival, which this weekend premiered "Prima Donna," an opera by the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright that was originally commissioned and then rejected by the Metropolitan Opera, ostensibly for being in French, but in fact (so gossip has it) for being bad. Anthony Tommasini reviewed it in yesterday's New York Times, and while he tries to put the best possible face on it, it sounds like a dud to me.

Edited to add: Tim Smith, my colleague in Baltimore, compiled on his blog some of the things written about "Prima Donna" in the British press, which sounded like at best faint praise to me. So I was all the more struck to see this very positive review on MusicalAmerica.com today. Now I'm getting curious.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 14, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  festivals , opera  
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