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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



04 Dec 2004

Berlioz in Boston

Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in...

Not strictly opera, but so full of the usual suspects . . . My experience of Berlioz's Dramatic Symphony Romeo et Juliette (R&J) came full circle last night at Boston's Symphony Hall. I had first heard the work live in 1968 when Charles Munch conducted the BSO and soloists Rosalind Elias, Jerold Siena and Donald Gramm. Parenthetically, that's 36 years ago, Ms. Elias's career was at least a dozen years old at the time and she's still singing in San Francisco's Vanessa and directing operas. Quite an achievement.

Last night James Levine conducted the orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Matthew Polenzani and Julien Robbins in a superbly played and sung — and very personal vision — of R&J. In his program note Mr. Levine speaks of how much he loves Berlioz; how gratifying it is to play his music, particularly with America's most French repertory-oriented orchestra; how much Berlioz he will be scheduling with the orchestra in the near term; and how fresh and controversial the composer still is, even in France. While I have heard the work played ravishingly by other conductors, what distinguished this performance was that Levine took seriously the word "Dramatic."

The mezzo and tenor soloists do not portray the characters in R&J; she works with a chamber chorus as narrator and he sings the song of Queen Mab but otherwise does not in any represent Mercutio. The bass does, at the very end, recognizably portray Friar Laurence and the chorus takes the role of the Capulets and Montagues, but it's way to late in the game at that point to make a case for the piece as anything but a symphonic work. The love duets, the death scene and other big moments in the story are all orchestral and it is here that Levine chose to bring his operatic persona to the fore. This purely orchestral music was strongly characterized. The Ball at the Capulets had a festive air but with a strongly menacing undertone, a militant declaration that this was THE party being given by THE family. During the scene in the tomb, the sustained notes by the first clarinet went to the edge of acceptable tone to portray the agonized cries of the dying lovers. Under Levine's direction, string passages in the Introduction and in a couple of other places in the score very firmly pointed the way — in 1839 — to what Wagner would do in the great chromatic string passage that opens the mountain top scene at the end of Siegfried — music that Wagner was to write in the mid-1860s.

The Boston Symphony played magnificently, with some astonishing unanimity and virtuosity of string attack. Brass was rock solid and there was a sustained glow from the stage. The chorus enjoys the directorship of John Oliver and sounded like a French chorus on this occasion. I was delighted to discover a student of mine from a quarter of a century ago, one who used to build and rig scenery for our productions, singing in the bass section. Ms. Hunt Lieberson has always made absolute sense as a French mezzo and her claret-colored voice was in fine condition. Both she and Mr. Polenzani sang with the words well forward, floating ON the tone as is right for the style. His Queen Mab aria is a kind of rapid patter with pinpoint interjections by the chorus — it flew by as light as gossamer with bright, clear tone and complete confidence. Mr. Robbins was a noble, rich-voiced Laurence, his voice placed just a bit too far back in the mouth for ultimate clarity in French music, but in every other way he satisfied.

The audience was extremely enthusiastic.

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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