Recently in Performances
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
19 Nov 2004
Handel's Semele at the ENO
Semele Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004] IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of...
Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004]
IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of getting above your station. (True, it also warns royals to be careful whom they sleep with.) This tale of Jupiter's incendiary affair with mortal Semele is a satire on celebrity, ambition and vanity that might have been written for the Big Brother generation.
And English National Opera's revival of Robert Carsen's production does it justice of a modern kind: gorgeous to look at and listen to, it is also rather shallow, a romp rather than a morality tale. It reserves its disapproval more for the drunken toffs who celebrate the birth of Bacchus from his mother's ashes (an entertainingly profane moment, welcoming this jovial son of god in a "Lenten oratorio") than for the "vain wretched fool" Semele, whose destruction is so easily fixed by Juno.
We are in a 1950s milieu of upper-crust debauchees in frocks to make the ladies gag with envy. The updating is more for visual effect than dramatic relevance, and it works wonderfully with its stark side-lighting, blessed use of the huge open stage and a welldirected chorus keeping things ticking over. And as well as beautiful images (Semele lying in bed in Heaven with Earth shining through the window, seen through a gauzy curtain) it is full of sight gags, character comedy and a theatrical intelligence to match the authors'.
Carolyn Sampson sings poor, silly Semele with beguiling facility, style and beauty, adding her own roulades to Handel's already extreme demands, pinpointing every note of the coloratura and doing it all with liquefying sexiness: slinking on to sing "Endless pleasure, endless love" as breathily as Marilyn cooing happy birthday to JFK, coyly baring all before slipping back into Jupiter's boudoir, tossing off an outburst of joyous vanity, hyperventing the hysteria of the mistress who's got above herself. This is a great performance.
It is well matched: Ian Bostridge's Jupiter gradually unbends to deliver the sweetest soft legato, Patricia Bardon's Juno is hilariously fiery as the (literally) queenly betrayed wife, and Janis Kelly camps Iris up something terrible.
After a languid start, Laurence Cummings, conducting, brings real Handelian sensibility and drama to the orchestra, and the chorus has a fine time undressing, drinking and indulging in some of Handel's loveliest music. A top evening, ENO right back on form, and the audience too.
Semele — Carolyn Sampson
Jupiter — Ian Bostridge
Ino — Anne-Marie Gibbons
Juno — Patricia Bardon
Athamas — Robin Blaze
Somnus — Graeme Danby
Cadmus — Iain Paterson
Iris — Janis Kelly
Click here for a synopsis of the opera.