February 28, 2005

STRAVINSKY: Oedipus Rex; Les Noces

Igor Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex; Les Noces
Martyn Hill, Susan Bickley, Edward Fox, Robert Craft, Alison Wells, Jennifer Lane, Andrew Greenan, David Wilson-Johnson, Joseph Cornwell, Alan Ewing
Philharmonia Orchestra, Simon Joly Chorus, Tristan Fry Percussion Ensemble, International Piano Quartet
Robert Craft, cond.
NAXOS 8.557499 [CD]

Robert Craft has begun an ambitious project of recording Stravinsky's oeuvre with two of the best dramatic works, Oedipus Rex -- a sort of melodrama in a fever -- and Les Noces (The Wedding), which simply defies any generic classification. The two make an ideal pairing, Rex as high drama told at a breakneck crawl, Noces as a kind of musical Polaroid camera that churns through frozen snapshots with a mind numbing velocity. Craft was a close confidant and collaborator with Stravinsky, and was responsible for many premiers and other definitive statements. For better or worse this fact brought down upon his head a certain amount of critical skepticism on the part of academics. This can be set to one side in these recordings, which are certainly reliable in a workaday sense, if a little tepid in terms of insight and energy.

I like my Stravinsky recordings crisp -- lines well separated, with a good sense of presence and definition in all the parts -- which is why I find this Naxos recording sufficient (as most Naxos products are), but only sufficient. Recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London, they have a certain "live" presence, an indefiniteness in the mix, where I would have appreciated more precision. In all fairness to the recording engineers, Noces is a fatally flawed recording proposition to begin with: scored for four pianos, a small army of percussion instruments, chorus, and vocal soloists, it will never be recorded in anything like its live imprint. The effect of the four pianos in concert is not to be replicated, but we might hope to get something of the percussion at appropriate moments, and this is usually the case here, with the exception of the all important bells, too often obscured and kept from playing their role as a kind of place marker in the music. Oedipus is another matter. Its drama allows for a recording engineer to create a drama in the mix, bringing essential dramatic persons and instruments forward, while letting the inessentials recede into the background. On some tracks this is done with astonishing accuracy, but on others it seems hit or miss. Here is where an engineer should come into their own, but only if they can compound craft with a really good sense of the music. Intuition seems slightly lacking on this recording.

The artists involved, singers and instrumentalists alike, are all adequate, again in the normal Naxos fashion, but no individual performance stands out. While this would set the music forward, were it any other composer, Stravinsky -- to remain crisp -- requires a fine sense of artistic individuality, a humor like his own, to bring the best out. You can't simply play Stravinsky, as you might Shostakovitch, and leave the drama to the score. Stravinsky's music is a cult of the personality, like the man, above musical logic. Lose sight of that fact and the result is tepid at best. While there are moments of individual genius here, for the most part the work is simply workmanlike.

Caveat emptor: these recordings were released previously on the Koch International Label. The apparently anonymous translation of Rex is a serviceable, albeit liberal synopsis of the Latin text. Latin-deprived souls will have to extrapolate from the English gloss. The transliteration from the Cyrillic and English translation of Les Noces by Philip Taylor, on the other hand, shows considerable care and fidelity.

Lukewarm recommendation.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Posted by Gary at 3:01 AM

February 27, 2005

Rossini's La Cenerentola in Milwaukee

Vivica Genaux

Genaux's huge voice lifts 'La Cenerentola'

She meets vocal challenges of title role with power, agility

By TOM STRINI [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 26 Feb 05]

Vivica Genaux hasn't been singing long enough for the whole world to recognize it, but she is one of the greatest singers of our day.

Genaux returned Friday to the Florentine Opera, to sing the title role in Rossini's "La Cenerentola." Her voice was huge, and as dark and rich as a profound red wine. Rarely do voices with such weight come to roles such as this, which are loaded with quick, tricky ornaments and aerobatic coloratura tangents. For all its power, Genaux's singing seems effortless, and her voice is incredibly agile. She articulated every note with utter clarity and accuracy, even in the fastest runs and at the extremes of her range.

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Posted by Gary at 2:24 PM

Chicago Opera Theater to Present Handel's La Resurrezione

Handel's oratorio a confrontation between hope and despair

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun Times, 27 Feb 05]

From an artistic standpoint, Chicago Opera Theater's inaugural season last year in the new Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park couldn't have been more successful.

Productions of Monteverdi's "The Coronation of Poppea,'' the haunting Chicago staged premiere of Benjamin Britten's "Death in Venice'' and a version of Rossini's whimsical "Il viaggio a Reims'' set in the American Wild West were outstanding on both musical and theatrical levels.

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Posted by Gary at 2:13 PM

Fledermaus at Opera Australia

Cast of Die Fledermaus (Photo: Opera Australia)

Fledermaus, Opera House

By Peter McCallum [The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Feb 05]

Fledermaus, Johann Strauss, Opera Australia, Opera House, February 25

This is the triumph of style over content certainly, but in Fledermaus everything triumphs over content.

The director, Lindy Hume, with designers Richard Roberts and Angus Strathie, has transposed 19th-century Austro-Hungarian imperial decadence onto 20th-century American imperial decadence, marrying brash New York energy with creaking Viennese charm.

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Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

Outsourcing Hits Wexford Festival

Opera festival snub for 'too costly' RTE

John Burns [Times Online, 27 Feb 05]

RIP-OFF Ireland has reached the opera house. Wexford Festival is hiring an eastern European orchestra because it says that the local equivalent is O150,000 more expensive.

While the government last week established Culture Ireland, an agency to promote Irish art overseas, one of the country's premier cultural events is now outsourcing its music to Poland and its singing to Prague.

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Posted by Gary at 1:49 PM

February 26, 2005

More Fallout from Dismissal of Fontana

Ricardo Muti

Workers strike at Milan's la Scala opera

Associated Press [25 Feb 05]

ROME - Milan's La Scala opera house has fired its top administrator, sparking angry protests from employees who have threatened to bring the curtain down on more performances, news reports said.

La Scala's board of directors on Thursday dismissed Superintendent Carlo Fontana, who had a rift with conductor Riccardo Muti, Italy's ANSA news agency reported. Fontana's post will be taken over by Mauro Meli, director of La Scala's theatrical division.

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La Scala suffers from lack of harmony

From Richard Owen in Rome [Times Online, 26 Feb 05]

BARELY two months after the restoration of La Scala was unveiled at a glittering gala, the great opera house is in chaos, with strikes threatening to bring down the curtain amid backstage intrigues worthy of an Italian libretto.

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Posted by Gary at 4:22 PM

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at Berlin Cathedral's 100 Year Jubilee

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Photo: Schubert)

Lied und Leidenschaft

[Berliner Morgenpost, 26 Feb 05]

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau über den Berliner Dom und die neue Sängergeneration

Der Berliner Bariton Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau gehörte über Jahrzehnte hinweg zu den weltweit gefeierten Liedsängern. Der fast 80jährige ist nach wie vor als Dirigent, Maler, Buchautor, Ehrengast aktiv - und wird heute im Konzert des Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchesters Berlin zum 100jährigen Jubiläum des Berliner Doms als Sprecher auftreten. Volker Blech sprach mit Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

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Posted by Gary at 4:04 PM

Salome at the Semperoper

(Photo: Semperoper)

Auf den Kopf gestellt

[Sächsische Zeitung, 26 Feb 05]

Mit der Premiere von ,Salome" startet die Semperoper am Sonntag Richard-Strauss-Festtage. Peter Mussbach inszeniert.

Sie inszenieren die sechste ,Salome" seit der Dresdner Uraufführung 1905 - empfanden Sie die Tradition des Stücks als Last?

Da ich die Oper zum ersten Mal anfasse, dominierte die Lust. Eigentlich habe ich ja für ,Salome" Regie-Verbot, welches mir Mitte der 70er Jahre die Strauss-Erben aussprachen. Seinerzeit hatte ich vor Gericht mit der Frankfurter Oper um Urheberrechte an einer Inszenierung von Wagners ,Götterdämmerung" gestritten - und den Prozess gewonnen. Aufgehoben ist das Verbot nicht. Die Erben haben aber auch nicht interveniert.

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Posted by Gary at 4:03 PM

Thomas Hampson in Vienna

Thomas Hampson (Photo: Sheila Rock)

Seefahrer und Selbstmörder aus Amerika

[Die Presse, 26 Feb 05]

Thomas Hampson brachte ein ungewöhnliches Potpourri.

Kurzweilig und mit pointierten persönlichen Anmerkungen verfeinert eröffnete Bariton Thomas Hampson seinen vierteiligen Amerika-Zyklus: Er liess das Publikum im Neuen Saal an seiner Spurensuche nach dem "amerikanischen Lied" teilhaben, zog verbindende Fäden von der Alten in die Neue Welt. So sprach etwa der Mahler-Zeitgenosse Edward MacDowell fliessend deutsch und wurde von Franz Liszt hoch geschätzt. Seine wonnig-traurige Seefahrer- "Ballade" brachte Hampson dann im Grossen Saal darstellerisch raffiniert zur Geltung. Auch Charles Griffes (1884-1920) europäische Wurzeln - er war mit Engelbert Humperdinck befreundet - wurden nachvollziehbar, so in "Des Müden Abendlied".

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Posted by Gary at 3:33 PM

John Blow's Venus & Adonis at the Wiener Kammeroper

Venus & Adonis (Photo: Angermayr/Goerge & Klinger/Husar)

Eine barocke Multimedia-Show

VON GERHARD KRAMER [Die Presse, 26 Feb 05]

Mit "Venus und Adonis" setzte die Wiener Kammeroper ihre Programmschiene "Barockoper" erfolgreich fort.

"Master of the famous Mr. H. Purcell": Die Gedenktafel in der Westminster Abbey zeigt deutlich, dass John Blow, geboren 1649, schon für Zeitgenossen ein wenig im Schatten seines um zehn Jahre jüngeren Kollegen im Hofdienst und mutmasslichen Schülers Henry Purcell stand. Dabei war Blows Karriere als Organist, Komponist und Chorleiter vielfältig und verantwortungsvoll. 1683 schrieb er "Venus und Adonis", eine "Masque for the entertainment of the King". Eine Oper im Taschenformat sozusagen, aus der Tradition des höfischen Maskenspiels emporgewachsen zum musikdramatischen Meisterwerk - nur mehr ein Schritt trennt es von Purcells "Dido and Aeneas" (1689).

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Posted by Gary at 2:12 PM

Lyric Workshop Opens at the Paris Opéra

L'Opéra de Paris prépare la relève

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 26 Feb 05]

Il y a eu l'Opéra studio de Louis Erlo, l'Ecole d'art lyrique immortalisée par Michel Sénéchal, puis le Centre de formation lyrique : à chaque nouveau directeur, la structure pédagogique de l'Opéra de Paris ou sont encadrés les jeunes chanteurs change d'appellation. Gérard Mortier a annoncé récemment à la presse la création de l'Atelier lyrique, dont il a confié la direction à Christian Schirm, ancien adjoint d'Hugues Gall à Genève et à Paris. Comme l'a souligné Mortier avec un mélange de malice et d'affection, Schirm aspirait à prendre la direction d'un théâtre d'opéra : la mission qu'il lui a confiée pourrait etre une préparation idéale à cette future tâche...

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for more information on l'Atelier Lyrique.

Posted by Gary at 1:52 PM

Nikolaus Harnoncourt at Zurich Opera

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Enlightening conductor

[Daily Telegraph, 26 Feb 05]

Whether conducting early music or Bartók, Nikolaus Harnoncourt says his job is to tell orchestras not just what to do, but why. He talks to Geoffrey Norris

It is the day before the opening night. Zurich is agog for the new production of Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea, but there is a snag. The Poppea has gone sick. A new one has had to be flown in from Frankfurt, and in only a matter of hours has had to be acclimatised to the radical staging and familiarised with the edition of the score that Zurich Opera is using.

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Posted by Gary at 1:32 PM

February 25, 2005

BYRD: Consort Songs

William Byrd, Consort Songs
Emma Kirkby, soprano, Fretwork
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907 383

This CD collaboration between the early music viol ensemble Fretwork and vocalist Emma Kirkby is devoted to songs of William Byrd composed in the vernacular to be sung with string accompaniment; interspersed with these is a selection of short instrumental pieces in various genres. As a composer whose work was associated especially with the English Catholics, many of Byrd's compositions from the last quarter of the sixteenth century were based on sacred Latin texts. The less familiar English consort songs chosen for this recording represent a mix of both secular and religious themes. Topics in the song texts include the constancy of Penelope, the narrative of a pet dog who meets an unexpected end, an elegy on Sir Philip Sidney, and the execution of Mary Stuart as bound up with the vicissitudes of Fortune in this world. This selection is further balanced by vernacular songs of an overtly religious character focusing on topics such as the vanity of earthly pleasure and possessions, the Nativity, and a lengthy prayer for divine grace. Finally, some of the song texts draw on a thematic complex of both sacred and profane.

Among the secular texts several stand out for both their expressive and narrative content. The song "My mistress had a little dog" tells of a pet trained as performer who also hunts after rabbits. Here the interplay of voice and accompaniment is especially effective between Kirkby and the players of Fretwork. In the first of five strophes the little dog's acrobatic talents are emphasized in Kirkby's melismatic decorations executed on the words "tumbler" and "might," in "A tumbler fine that might be seen." Just as the voice uses embellishment to suggest upward, athletic movements of the dog, the viols can be heard to follow the singer's decoration or to give their own accompaniment during her long, sustained notes. This technique prepares the listener for additional such decoration in subsequent strophes relating the dog's history. In the penultimate section the little dog has been slain which is reflected by a change in musical setting. Kirkby modulates her voice to effect a somber tone and the viols play a much slower, dirge-like accompaniment. To underscore the event the soloist focuses her repetitions on the earlier part of the strophe, where the sad news is imparted, and embellishes the word "shake" in imitation of her quivering emotions. The song ends with a call to justice for the slain pet of her mistress.

In their approach to the religious songs Kirkby and Fretwork make use of related techniques. As an example, "He that all earthly pleasure scorns" opposes in two equivalent strophes the vocabulary of sinful life - attracted to riches and "heaps of gold" - and that of the anchoritic existence typical of those saints abandoning this world for blessed solitude. In the first strophe decoration is placed on words such as "sinner" and - increasingly - on "heaps of" gold, as the phrase is repeated and varied. Such embellishment from the first part contrasts with the emphases in the second dealing with a sainted life of renunciation. Here those individuals following the model of Christ "upon the Cross" seek out a life apart from the temptation of possessions, "In woods and fields from men unknown." The words "upon" and "unknown" in these lines are highlighted with skillfully performed vocal decoration, thus serving as a counterweight to the introductory section on "earthly pleasure."

The five instrumental selections, spaced more or less evenly between the songs, are drawn from various collections by Byrd, some of which contained originally a mix of vocal and purely instrumental pieces. The three Fantasias, despite the freedom of form often associated with this musical type, show clearly repeating and varied structural elements, some related to dance rhythms. The strength of Fretwork as a period ensemble is reinforced by their performances of these intricate pieces, as well as the dance types represented by the Pavan and Galliard. These selections are an ideal complement to the consort songs, both providing the listener with a rich sampling of William Byrd's compositional legacy.

Salvatore Calomino
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 11:24 PM

New York Throws a Party for Handel

Nicholas McGegan (Photo: Wenzel)

A Rollicking 320th-Birthday Party in Honor of Handel

By ALLAN KOZINN [NY Times, 25 Feb 05]

Through a felicitous quirk of its touring schedule, Nicholas McGegan and his period instrument ensemble, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, performed a program devoted mostly to music by Handel on Wednesday evening, the 320th anniversary of Handel's birth.

For Mr. McGegan, this was clearly a fine excuse to party. Throughout the evening at Zankel Hall, he conducted this San Francisco-based orchestra ebulliently, swinging his arms broadly and all but dancing off the podium.

Click here for remainder of article..

Posted by Gary at 3:52 PM

Le Nozze di Figaro at the Met

Andrea Rost (Photo: Zoltan Tombor)

Michael Portillo - Happy ending

[New Statesman, 28 Feb 05]

Opera - A revived production of Mozart that came close to perfection.

In 1998, New York's Metropolitan Opera staged a new production of Le Nozze di Figaro with a glorious cast that included Bryn Terfel as Figaro and Cecilia Bartoli as Susanna. The recent revival employed singers who are less well known, but it none the less came close to being a perfect night at the opera.

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Posted by Gary at 2:21 AM

La Scala Dismisses Fontana

La Scala licenzia Fontana, subentra Meli

Il cda della Fondazione rimuovere il sovrintendente
Bufera in Comune: l'assessore Carruba si dimette

[Corriere della Sera, 24 Feb 05]

MILANO - Il sovrintendente del Teatro alla Scala, Carlo Fontana, è stato rimosso. Lo ha stabilito il Cda della teatro che in una nota rilasciata al termine della riunione fa sapere di aver revocato "con effetto immediato, il Sovrintendente dottor Carlo Fontana, affidando l'incarico al direttore della Divisione Teatro alla Scala, maestro Mauro Meli".

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Tohuwabohu an der Mailänder "Scala"

VON DANIELA TOMASOVSKY [Die Presse, 25 Feb 05]

Turbulent geht es derzeit an der Mailänder Scala zu: Nach der Premieren-Absage am Dienstag wurde nun Intendant Carlo Fontana ausgewechselt.

Am Dienstag hätte die Premiere von Tschaikowskis "Pique Dame" am "Teatro degli Arcimboldi" - der zweiten Spielstätte der Mailänder Scala - über die Bühne gehen sollen. Doch die Gewerkschaften wussten dies zu verhindern: Sie riefen zum Streik auf - so lange, bis die finanzielle Lage des Opernhauses (ein Defizit von zwölf Millionen Euro) geklärt und vor allem der Machtkampf an der Spitze des Opernhauses beigelegt ist.

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La Scala Fires Top Exec as Budget Row Boils Over

[Reuters, 24 Feb 05]

MILAN (Reuters) - Milan's La Scala fired its top executive on Thursday as the world-famous opera house battles to plug a growing budget hole.

La Scala reopened last December after three years of renovation work to bring it into line with its European rivals. But the cost of the facelift and new theatrical machinery ran well over budget to 61 million euros ($81 million).

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Posted by Gary at 2:01 AM

Bach's B-Minor Mass at the Musikverein

Die tönende Glaubenswahrheit

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 25 Feb 05]

Franz Welser-Möst dirigierte eine bewegende Aufführung von Bachs H-Moll-Messe im Musikverein.

Die heutzutage gern gepflegte Diskussion über die Frage "Darf man Bach auf ,modernem' Instrumentarium aufführen?" ist dümmlich. Dass sie überhaupt geführt wird, beweist nur, wie wenig adäquate Bach-Aufführungen es heutzutage gibt. Wer die von Franz Welser-Möst geleitete Wiedergabe der Hohen Messe im Musikverein hörte, hat sich garantiert keinen Augenblick lang mit solchen Lappalien beschäftigt. Er hatte keine Zeit, denn da wurde Musik gemacht, auf jenem Niveau, mit jener Dringlichkeit, die von Takt zu Takt signalisiert, welche inneren wie äusseren Höhenflüge des Geistes sich in dieser Partitur vereinigen.

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Posted by Gary at 1:48 AM

February 24, 2005

Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at Wigmore Hall

Credits: EMI Classics (Ian Bostridge), Justin Pumfrey (Mitsuko Uchida)


Wigmore Hall, London

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 24 Feb 05]

A decade ago, Ian Bostridge's recording of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin, with Graham Johnson, played a major part in boosting his nascent career. These days, though, the tenor is more often found collaborating with pianists who are soloists in their own right. His second recording of the song cycle has seen him developing a partnership with Mitsuko Uchida - and it might be his most fruitful so far.

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Posted by Gary at 8:52 PM

Richard Strauss Festival Begins 27 February at the Semperoper

Elektra (Set Design: Ruth Berghaus)

Dresdner Festtage Richard Strauss vom 27.2. bis 10.3.2005

Weltstars in der Semperoper zu erleben in Opernaufführungen, Konzerten und im Liederabend

The Saxonian capital of Dresden has long been associated with the operas of Richard Strauss, many of which were originally premiered at the city's exquisite Semper Opera during Strauss's lifetime. . . . [N]o less than six all-Strauss performances in late February and early March, encompassing four towering operas, an orchestral concert, and a Recital by Dame Felicity Lott. The operas will be Salome, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos and Die Frau Ohne Schatten, with stellar casts including such important international artists as Luana DeVol, Susan Anthony, Sumi Jo, Evelyn Herlitzius, Gabriele Schnaut, Petra Lang, Reinhild Runkel, Sophi Koch, Stephen Gould, Günter Neumann, Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, and Alan Titus. The experienced conductors will be Kent Nagano, Wolfgang Rennert, and Michael Boder. In addition to this operatic feast, an orchestra concert under the baton of Ion Marin will offer several works representative of 'The Young Richard Strauss' (Macbeth, the Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra, and Aus Italien). Finally, the radiant British soprano Dame Felicity Lott will be the soloist in a Recital showcasing her peerless interpretation of Strauss' soaring melodic style.

Click here for travel information.

Posted by Gary at 7:02 PM

Tan Dun's Water Passion at Perth

Tan Dun (Photo: Waring Abbot)

Fine blending of a sensual palette

Mark Coughlan [The Australian, 25 Feb 05]

IN pursuing its theme of transcendence, the Perth Festival has brokered some imaginative collaborations, such as the Tura New Music concert at the Art Gallery of WA, featuring Morton Feldman's music inspired by the paintings at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. . . .

Music inspired by another artist is also the subtext of Tan Dun's Water Passion after St Matthew. Best known for his Oscar-winning film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Tan's homage to Bach's St Matthew Passion was commissioned for the 250th anniversary of the great composer's death.

Click here for complete article.

Posted by Gary at 6:17 PM

A Bad Day at the Staatsoper

Rigoletto, Bavarian State Opera, Munich

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 24 Feb 05]

The apes have landed. The Duke of Mantua is a gorilla. Monterone is an orang utan, surrounded by hairy baboons. The cult film director Doris Dörrie is monkeying with Verdi's Rigoletto at the Bavarian State Opera.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 5:18 PM

A Full House at Royal Albert Hall

Carmen, Royal Albert Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 24 Feb 05]

It is strange how easily Raymond Gubbay manages to fill the Royal Albert Hall for opera, when less than a year ago his Savoy Opera company collapsed because he could not sell enough seats in a theatre a fraction of the size. How irrelevant that ill-starred venture and its demise seem now.

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Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

February 23, 2005

Die Welt Interviews Rolando Villazón

"Sänger sind Einhörner"

Neben ihm verblasst sogar die Netrebko: Ein Gespräch mit dem Tenor Rolando Villazón

von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 24 Feb 05]

Der 32-jährige Mexikaner Rolando Villazón hat sich in seinen wenigen Karrierejahren bereits als eine der grössten Tenor-Hoffnungen erwiesen. Ein Interview mit dem nie stillsitzenden Lockenkopf ist wie eine Bühnenvorstellung. Manuel Brug hat es erfahren.

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Posted by Gary at 8:18 PM

Katharina Wagner and Doris Dörrie Receive Harsh Treatment in Munich

Wer kann, der singt, wer nichts kann, inszeniert

Von Julia Spinola [FAZ.Net, 23 Feb 05]

Zwei Frauen dominierten das Münchner Kulturgeplauder der beiden vergangenen Tage: Wagner-Urenkelin und Bayreuther Wunschmaid Katherina [sic] Wagner inszenierte am Gärtnerplatztheater Lortzings "Waffenschmied", und "Männer"-Filmemacherin Doris Dörrie brachte einen Abend darauf an der Staatsoper Verdis "Rigoletto" heraus.

Zwei Frauen, wie sie unterschiedlicher kaum scheinen könnten: Die eine, aufgewachsen mitten im Herzen des Wagner-Mekkas, muss erst noch lernen, dass es auch eine Realität jenseits der Opernfiktion gibt. Die andere hat mit den hehren Sphären eines abgehobenen Kunstanspruchs rein gar nichts am Hut und bezeichnet sich selber gerne als "Operntrottel".

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Wie aufregend! Nein, wie brav

Die Oper verliert: Katharina Wagner und Doris Dörrie kämpfen in München mit Lortzing und Verdi

von Egbert Tholl [Die Welt, 23 Feb 04]

Was Berlin kann, kann München auch: drei Opernpremieren an einem Wochenende. Inszeniert von drei Frauen. Am Prinzregententheater gräbt die junge Florentine Klepper für die Bayerische Theaterakademie eine barocke Hofoper aus - ein musikalischer Hochgenuss. Am Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz inszeniert Katharina Wagner Lortzings "Waffenschmied" - ein musikalisches Desaster. Und an der Staatsoper bringt Doris Dörrie Verdis "Rigoletto" heraus - ein letztlich gewonnener Kampf der Musik gegen Bilderfluten.

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Posted by Gary at 8:13 PM

Samson et Dalila at the Met

Rembrandt: The Blinding of Samson (1636)

A Samson With Vocal Willpower and Dramatic Flair

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 23 Feb 05]

Though a sizable contingent of opera connoisseurs and critics have long considered Saint-Saens' "Samson et Dalila" a musically tepid melodrama, this 1877 opera has been an enduring favorite with audiences. It's not hard to understand why.

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Posted by Gary at 5:53 PM

Verdi's Requiem Tours France

Oswald Sallaberger fait du "Requiem" de Verdi un ardent hymne à la vie

[Le Monde, 23 Feb 05]

Le chef a dirigé l'Orchestre de Rouen à Paris, avant une tournée en Normandie.

A qui s'adresse le compositeur d'un Requiem ? Au défunt, que sa musique doit accompagner dans une ultime transcendance, ou à la communauté endeuillée, qui se voit ainsi rappeler son état de mortel ? Dans le cas de Verdi, agnostique déclaré mais chantre du sacré à l'opéra, la réponse ne fait aucun doute. La Messa da Requiem, créée en 1874 à la mémoire du compositeur Rossini et de l'écrivain Manzoni, est destinée à tout etre humain sensible au pouvoir des sons.

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Posted by Gary at 5:47 PM

The Controversy Continues in Munich

Alarmstufe Rot

[Merkur Online, 23 Feb 05]

Staatsoper: Doris Dörrie bietet "Rigoletto" als verkleidetes Uralttheater

Eine gross angelegte, staatstheaternde Rettungsaktion sollte es sein. Und dass Doris Dörrie jene Verweigerer, die Oper doof statt dufte finden, an die Hand nehmen will, um sie heim in die Hochkultur zu holen, ist ja prinzipiell in Ordnung. Dabei pflegt die Filmregisseurin nur zu gern mit ihrem Nichtwissen in Sachen Musiktheater zu kokettieren, um augenzwinkernd nach Kumpanen zu suchen: Oper, die mischen wir mal so richtig zeitgeistig auf.

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Posted by Gary at 5:30 PM

Aida in Philadelphia

Aida, Opera Company of Philadelphia

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 23 Feb 05]

Like picking a growth stock, the Opera Company of Philadelphia showed shrewd judgment by engaging sopranos (for two of its four 2004/05 productions) who promptly became media darlings.

Unfortunately, when the time came for Anna Netrebko, hugely touted by her record company, to sing in Don Pasquale, the stunning Russian soprano cancelled on the grounds of exhaustion. With Angela Brown, who created a stir with her Aida at the Metropolitan Opera last fall, the company again appeared dogged by bad luck, as illness forced her out of the premiere. But on Sunday she sang the second performance at the Academy of Music with no sign of diminished faculties. Brown lacks Netrebko's figure but has a fine, full-bloomed soprano that rides handsomely over the most sonorous of Verdi's ensembles. And her easy, unforced production of tone adds to the appeal. She took charge in "Ritorna vincitor" as if to assert that now the drama is really under way. But there is some unsteadiness in the middle register, the voice falls short of an ideal roundness of tone and one sometimes missed an arching sense of line. The treacherous high C in her second aria, "O patria mia", hit squarely but cautiously, was not the crowning moment that it should be.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 5:15 PM

February 22, 2005

CAVALLI: Arias and Duets from 5 operas

Francesco Cavalli, Arias and Duets from 5 operas
Gloria Banditelli, mezzo-soprano; Rosita Frisani, soprano; Roberto Abbondanza, baritone; Gianluca Belfiori Doro, counter-tenor; Mario Cecchetti, tenor; Mediterraneo Concento, directed by Sergio Vartolo
NAXOS 8.557746 [CD]

Some years ago, those of us who are aficionados of pre-1750 repertory - and all the more so, those of us who are privileged to be able to teach it - were happy to have any recording of the music we hold so dear. We were happy to excuse wooden-ness or sloppiness of performance because, well, some idea of the sound of pre-Classical repertories was better than none at all. Over the last couple of decades, with the proliferation of phenomenal performers and ensembles who specialize in early music, this resignation faded: we now are spoiled by having our choice of many polished performances, and the privilege of comparing their relative merits.

This is, however, especially true of works by a specific subset of "greats" - Monteverdi Bach Handel Vivaldi. Less-renowned composers are not as reliably represented; and this is certainly the case for Monteverdi's younger colleague Francesco Cavalli, for whose works we have just a handful of modern recordings. This is why Sergio Vartolo's project of providing an anthology of "hits" from a cluster of early Cavalli operas is potentially very welcome...

... but alas, it reminds this reviewer of the (bad?) old days. As a teacher, I welcome the resource this collection provides. Cavalli's works are, indeed, representative of early Venetian opera in a way that Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, though wonderful music, is not; and the notes, though a little rhetorically flamboyant, are solid and even provide information about the manuscript from which the operas are edited (!).

As a musician and fan of seventeenth-century music, however, I am disappointed. One of the most inventive trends in recordings of the repertory of this era over the last decade has been the application of flexible continuo groups - not just harpsichord, but chitarrone, melodic bass-line instruments, harps, guitars. This recording, on the other hand, features an unbroken harpsichord sound - and further, the instrument is rather tinny, and played with little in the way of variety in articulation. The singers are not bad, but their diction is overall really sloppy (and these are all native Italians!) and the inflection of their phrases tends toward the monotonous. As a consequence, the dramatic energy that Vartolo describes as characteristic of Cavalli's scenes is hard to discern in this recording.

A bright aspect of this compilation are the performances by tenor Mario Cecchetti, far and away the most accomplished and dramatically effective of the singers. The women on the recording are reasonably good if not particularly memorable; baritone Roberto Abbondanza has a relatively generic resonance, and counter-tenor Gianluca Belfiori Doro is especially unconvincing (his voice compares favorably to developing counter-tenor technique of the 1970s and 80s, but pales in comparison to the refinement achieved by many recent virtuosi). The ensemble Mediterraneo Concento - the latest incarnation of an instrumental ensemble that Vartolo has been leading for a number of years - is skilled but a little pedestrian.

Had this recording been issued in 1980, I would have been enthusiastic; given its 2003 release, I am disappointed that Vartolo and his crew - who have put together some very convincing performances of music from the turn of the seventeenth century - didn't do better. The expressive bar in early music has been raised over the last few years, and this disc doesn't clear it. Still, I will make sure my university library acquires a copy of this recording, which does give sound to an important and interesting repertory that has been silent for almost four centuries. I'll just wait eagerly for someone to come along and perform it with a bit more panache.

Andrew Dell'Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

Posted by Gary at 7:17 PM

Poppea in Zurich

L'incoronazione di Poppea, Zurich Opera

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 22 Feb 05]

The early music movement has come a long way since the 1970s. Or has it? Zurich Opera's new L'incoronazione di Poppea invites comparisons. This opera house's Monteverdi cycle three decades ago changed the way the world thought about the composer. Now it's time for the remake. Same conductor, different directors. Klaus-Michael Grüber staged a spare, emotional Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria three years ago. For Poppea, it's Jürgen Flimm's turn.

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Posted by Gary at 5:13 PM

Rigoletto in Munich

Doris Dörries "Rigoletto" ausgebuht

Wenig Begeisterung im Nationaltheater

München - Idee ungewöhnlich, Experiment gescheitert: Unter dieser Kurzformel könnte man Doris Dörries erste und von grossem Medieninteresse begleitete Münchner Opern-Inszenierung zusammenfassen. Giuseppe Verdis 1851 in Venedig uraufgeführten Opernklassiker "Rigoletto" auf dem "Planeten der Affen" anzusiedeln, diese Vorstellung fand bei der Premiere im Münchner Nationaltheater wenig Freunde.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:57 PM

Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges in Linz

Kritik Oper: Kräftiger Vitamin-C-Stoss

VON HELMAR DUMBS [Die Presse, 22 Feb 05]

Ein Kompendium musikalischer Komik: Prokofieffs "Liebe zu den drei Orangen" im Linzer Landestheater.

Es ist eine der kürzesten Sterbesze nen der Operngeschichte: Ein schnoddrig verkündetes Todesur teil, jemand wuselt mit einem Strick herum, dann ist die intrigante Königs-Nichte auch schon tot. In Prokofieffs Märchen-Oper "Die Liebe zu den drei Orangen" wird schnell gestorben: Auch die den ersten beiden Zitrus-Früchten entsprungenen Prinzessinnen verdursten rasch, wenn auch klagend - eines der Details, mit denen sich der Komponist/Librettist Prokofieff vom Verismo abgrenzt. Keine naturalistische Darstellung, keine opulent auskomponierten Szenen voller Gefühlsüberschwang; statt dessen: Märchen und absurdes Theater, kurze Sequenzen, die einander fast überholen.

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Posted by Gary at 4:49 PM

Massenet's Werther at the Wiener Staatsoper

Frauenpower gegen Ahnungslosigkeit

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 21 Feb 05]

Die Staatsoper spielt zwar Massenets "Werther" nicht wirklich, bietet aber zwei phänomenalen jungen Künstlern ein Forum.

Goethes Werther zwischen Nierentischchen und Mammutbäumen

Zuweilen begnügt man sich auch mit Details. Wenn das Ganze so gar nicht stimmen mag, gelingt es viel leicht dem einen oder anderen der beteiligten Künstler sozusagen gegen den Strom schwimmend, eine herausragende Leistung zu modellieren. Im Falle der "Werther"-Premiere darf Elina Garanca das künstlerische Freischärlertum für sich in Anspruch nehmen. Sie sollte die Charlotte singen, wurde von Regisseur Andrei Serban jedoch gezwungen, eine Art Grace-Kelly-Parodie abzuliefern, denn das Stück spielt von Inszenierungs-Gnaden in den fünfziger Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts.

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Posted by Gary at 4:37 PM

Anne Sofie von Otter at Göteborg

Anne Sofie von Otter at Göteborg

Yesterday [19 February 2005], I went to the concert hall in Göteborg, where Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg held a recital. It was the first time I actually heard them live, and I must confess that I was apprehensive! I have listened to them so much on recordings and taken so much influence from them, especially when it comes to my repertoire -- what if I didn't like them in concert? The concert hall was full -- 1200 seats, imagine that for a recital... I have a hard time getting jobs at all because it is so hard to attract audiences to recitals. But, they are world famous and that, of course, attracts a large audience.

At the beginning of the recital, I was embarrassed by people who clapped their hands after every song. I was wondering when/if the performers were going to say something about it, you could tell they were not happy about it. But what they did was wonderful! After three songs, Bengt Forsberg came to the microphone and talked about the next set of songs, "Four Serbian Folksongs" by Tor Aulin. Then Anne Sofie von Otter talked about the lyrics. As they were about to start, Bengt Forsberg jumped up again and said "ooh I just want to say that these pieces go so well together and would you please clap after all four are finished. We love that you do it, but..." He said it in such a friendly way that everyone felt at ease, and it was a great atmosphere during the rest of the concert.

The program:

Lars-Erik Larsson: Skyn, blomman och en lärka
Wilhelm Stenhammar: Melodi, I lönnens skymning, Gammal nederländare
Tor Aulin: Four serbian folksongs: Till en ros, Vinter i hjärtat, Vad vill jag, Domen
Ernest Chausson: Paysage (for piano)
Cécile Chaminade: L'anneau d'argent, L'amour captif, Viens, mon bien aimé, Sombrero


Franz Schubert: Frühlingsglaube (D 686), Im Frühling (D 882), An mein herz (D 860), Im Abendrot (D 799)
Gustav Mahler: Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald, Aus! Aus!
Erwin Schulhoff: Arabesque (op. 29, no. 1), Two pieces from "Hot music for piano"
Kurt Weill: Nannas Lied, Lied der Seeräuber-Jenny, Speak Low, Foolish heart

A wonderful and varied program. The two performers talked in between the pieces and made the atmosphere of the large room friendly and nice! They truly are professionals and they didn't seem to do anything but what they wanted to do.

The encores were fun: First, ABBAs "Thank you for the music", which became hilarious as Bengt Forsberg didn't play very well and von Otter started waving her arms beating the rhythm. In the end, she grabbed the mike and started to sing into it. I was laughing so hard that I cried- and later we got the explanation to what had happened: The lamps reflected on the music, so Bengt Forsberg couldn't see the music. The other encore was also Benny Andersson, from Kristina from Duvemala, "Ljusa kvällar om varen".

For me, this concert became a precious moment. The two performers truly brought out the best from the music, such a varied program, and everything performed in style. Even if they were funny and relaxed, they still performed the music with all the concentration and finesse that you could ask for. I wonder what they are like when they perform in other countries, if they are as relaxed and funny then, or if different cultures call for different behaviour?

This summer I was at the Scubertiade, and heard many good singers. No one talked in between songs though, and I have a hard time thinking that a concert like this could have taken place there. Or am I wrong?

Mia Edvardson

Posted by Gary at 4:16 PM

February 21, 2005

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Sings Operettas by Lehár, Suppé, and Strauss

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Sings Operettas by Lehár, Suppé, and Strauss
Music from Paganini, Boccaccio, Wiener Blut, Das Land des Lächelns, and Die Lustige Witwe.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, soprano, Rupert Glawitsch, Nicolai Gedda, tenors, Erich Kunz, baritone.
Various orchestras and conductors.
Hännsler Classic CD 94.501. TT: 68:44

This new disc, from Hänssler's "Living Voices" series, divides essentially into two parts. The first four tracks are "Potpourris" from Léhar's Paganini and Das Land des Lächelns, Suppé's Bocaccio, and Johann Strauss's Wiener Blut. Recorded in 1939 and 1940, these "Potpourris" feature tenor Rupert Glawitsch and a very young Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (b. 1915). The remaining eight tracks include excerpts from Schwarzkopf's early-50s EMI complete mono recordings of Die Lustige Witwe and Land das Lächelns.

The "Potpourris," which occupied two sides of a 78-rpm disc, were obviously designed to showcase Glawitsch, as he is given the lion's share of the music. Schwarzkopf's relatively limited participation is light years away from the mature artist featured in the EMI excerpts. In the former, we hear a small-voiced lyric soprano, with a tremulous lower register, who sings rather tentatively and with minimal personality. The EMI operettas, on the other hand, are the work of a finished artist, brimming with involvement and personality.

Of course, Schwarzkopf's interpretations have long divided opera listeners. I'm certainly not going to be the person who's going to change anyone's mind in this regard. I will say that unless you are intent on acquiring everything Schwarzkopf recorded, I can't see much reason to purchase this Hänssler release. Glawitsch's singing, while more accomplished than that of his young partner, certainly doesn't come close to eclipsing the stylish and opulently work of such tenors as Tauber, Wittrisch, Wundlerich, and Gedda. And, for not much more than the cost of this disc, you can own the complete EMI recordings of The Merry Widow and The Land of Smiles, reissued on a budget EMI two-disc set.

Kenneth Meltzer

Posted by Gary at 9:50 PM

CANTELOUBE: Chants d’Auvergne

Joseph Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne (Selections)
Veronique Gens, soprano
Lille National Orchestra
Jean-Claude Casadesus, conductor
NAXOS 8.557491 [CD]; 5.110065 [DVD-A]; 6.110065 [SACD]

In the mountains of the vast Auvergne country near the south of France lays the inspiration of Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne. Marie-Joseph Canteloube, born in 1879 at Annonay, spent his childhood in the countryside of Malaret in the south of Auvergne. It was these roots that instilled his love for folk-music, consuming much of his compositional output and research. He wrote Les chants paysan s'élève bien souvent au niveau de l'art le plus pur, par le sentiment et l'expression, sinon par la forme. (The songs of peasants very often reach the level of the purest art in feeling and expression, if not in form.)

Though Canteloube never achieved outstanding success as a composer, he has become widely known for his folk-song arrangements, particularly for his Chants d'Auvergne for soprano and orchestra. A series of five publications written between 1924 and 1955, partially in fulfillment for his work with the Pétain Government reviving interest in folk-music, these settings suitably recount the original songs, with orchestral accompaniments painting the limitless colors and textures of the Auvergne countryside.

Naxos' recent recording of Cantaloube's Chants d'Auvergne featuring soprano Véronique Gens, L'orchestre National de Lille, and maestro Jean-Claude Casadesus, is an exquisite performance, beautifully narrating the diverse vignettes of these song settings. Gens, a French soprano currently specializing in works from the baroque and classical periods, reveals a stunning flexibility. Her interpretation is strikingly simplistic, yet artistically driven, implementing various color timbres, scoops, whoops and flutter, effectively evoking the folk style with depth and breadth. The orchestra successfully supports the atmosphere of these folk-songs with colorful timbres and sensuous phrasing.

Unlike other recordings of Chants d'Auvergne who perform only a few of the popular selections, Naxos includes a broad spectrum of songs that are not as frequently performed or recorded, making it a must for performers and enthusiasts alike.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 8:49 PM

Michael Bohnen: At the Metropolitan Opera, New York

Michael Bohnen: At the Metropolitan Opera, New York
Arias from I pagliacci, Fidelio, Der Freischütz, Faust, Carmen, Dinorah, Robert le Diable, Die Zauberflöte, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Tannhäuser, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Mona Lisa, and Hamlet.
Michael Bohnen, bass-baritone. Various orchestras and conductors.
Hännsler Classic CD 94.503. TT: 75:50

The title of this most worthwhile CD is, I'm afraid, somewhat misleading. The charismatic German bass-baritone, Michael Bohnen, sang at the Metropolitan Opera from 1923-1932. One might expect this CD to only document roles that Bohnen sang there, if not provide transcriptions of actual Met performances.

In fact, the disc includes excerpts from several roles that Bohnen never sang at the Met. Of the twenty tracks on this CD, twelve, by my count, are souvenirs of Bohnen Met roles (Tonio, Rocco, Caspar, Mephistopheles, Wotan, Wolfram, Sachs, and Francesco in Schilling's Mona Lisa).

But in the end, this is of little consequence. These recordings are all documents of Bohnen in the prime of his career. Michael Bohnen was a superb singing-actor with a vibrant and attractive bass-baritone voice that demonstrated extraordinary facility in the lower and upper reaches of the voice. Bohnen was also renowned as a riveting stage actor. Fortunately, much of this charisma translates to Bohnen's audio recordings as well.

Unlike many singers--even some very famous ones--Bohnen's recordings provided a different interpretive sound and 'face" to each character. The results are always fascinating, although some might find his over-the-top portrayals of Escamillo and Mephistopheles a bit much. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that anyone would object to Bohnen's chilling impersonation of Caspar in Der Freischütz, in which he tears into the music with an almost frightening abandon, or his noble assumptions of Sarastro, Wotan, and Hans Sachs. Overall, this is singing of a very high order, indeed.

The recordings, which date from 1922-1930, are sometimes performed in the original language, sometimes in German translation. Bohnen seems least comfortable in Italian. His French is quite passable and of course, he uses his native German with a virtuoso actor's touch. The transfers are a bit overly filtered for my taste, although Bohnen's voice still shines through with ample presence and color.

The booklet contains German and English essays on Bohnen's life and Met career. No texts or translations of the arias are included.

Kenneth Meltzer

Posted by Gary at 8:42 PM

Wozzeck at WNO


John Allison at Wales Millenium Centre [Times Online, 21 Feb 05]

FIRST nights of Alban Berg's Wozzeck are not traditionally sellouts, but then this was anything but a traditional first night.

As the main event of Welsh National Opera's inaugural weekend in its new home, the Wales Millennium Centre at Cardiff Bay, Saturday night's performance sent out a volley of positive signals that will stand the company in good stead as it builds new audiences. There are more seats to fill than in WNO's old house, but a strong forthcoming season combined with adventurous pricing policy should prolong the buzz.

Click here for remainder of article.

A Dark Tale of Humanity in Waves of Pity and Terror

By PAUL GRIFFITHS [NY Times, 21 Feb 05]

CARDIFF, Wales, Feb. 20 - For most of its 59-year history, the Welsh National Opera has been looking forward to having a theater built for it here in the capital city of Wales. Now that hope has been fulfilled. On Saturday the company presented its first production made for its new home, the Wales Millennium Center: Alban Berg's "Wozzeck," in a performance that lived up to the occasion in every way. Whether the theater did so is less certain.

Click here for remainder of article.

Night at altar of popularity

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 21 Feb 05]

With the first night of Welsh National Opera's new production of Wozzeck on Saturday, the final block in the edifice of Cardiff's #106m arts complex fell into place. The Wales Millennium Centre, which dominates a thriving business and leisure development at the seafront, is bright, spacious and flawlessly egalitarian. Covered by a bronze shell, clad in Welsh slate and commanding the eye with a massive inscription that reads "In these stones horizons sing", the building has succeeded since its official opening in November to be all things to all men.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Crushed to death under a hill of beans

[Daily Telegraph, 21 Feb 05]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Wozzeck performed by the WNO at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Shocking the audience is an over-used tactic in the business of opera production, and one that pays swiftly diminishing returns - when Calixto Bieito grinds out his umpteenth coke-fuelled orgy, all we do is yawn.

But surprising the audience is a vital element of good theatre (at its most basic level, it's what keeps us awake), and one of the things I most deeply admire in Richard Jones's recent work is its arresting poetic strangeness: it's impossible to anticipate either its starting point or the journey it will take.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:36 PM

Scottish Opera on the Cutting Edge?

A view to a fresh start

CONRAD WILSON [Herald-Times, 21 Feb 05]

With the major success of his latest opera for Chicago, William Bolcom is America's musical man of the moment. Yet in Britain he is scarcely a name. A Wedding, his new hit, is based on Robert Altman's famous film of the same title, then at least we should be aware that he is aslo [sic] the composer of A View from the Bridge, an opera inspired in 1999 by the original blank verse version of the play by Arthur Miller who died last week.

Miller himself gave Bolcom's opera his blessing, and took pains to assist Arnold Weinstein, the composer's established librettist, in preparing the text. That, in itself, was no guarantee of a new masterpiece. Indeed, as with so many adaptations of plays and novels, the music could merely have got in the way of the words - which, for many people, was what happened to Sophie's Choice when the English composer Nicholas Maw got his hands on it. Before writing A View from the Bridge, Bolcom asked himself three questions: "Am I just gilding the lily? Is it worth doing?"

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:27 PM

Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer in Philadelphia

'Klinghoffer' drained of its outrage

Changing times may be the cause. And static staging undermined the opera's local premiere.

By Daniel Webster [Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 Feb 05]
For The Inquirer

Time stands quite still in John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

The pulsing orchestra, the explanatory choruses, the shifting viewpoints, and, above all, the tacit understanding that the events of 20 years ago are being replicated now with no measurable change give the work the feeling of complete stasis.

The Curtis Opera Theatre, with David Hayes conducting, presented the piece in its local premiere - in partial staging - Friday at Perelman Theater. It was the only performance.

Since it was first performed in 1991, the opera has been vilified for seeming to support the Palestinians who hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985. It was an early act of terrorism that angered, but also paralyzed, world opinion. In the course of the hijacking, an American, wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and his body dumped over the side with his wheelchair.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:07 PM

WNO Triumphs With La Traviata

La Traviata
by Rafal Olbinski

La Traviata

Rian Evans [The Guardian, 21 Feb 05]

Welsh National Opera's first performance in its new home could so easily have been a disaster. But nowhere was the return of its former musical director Carlo Rizzi more crucial than in this revival, as he transformed the shoddy Traviata of last May into an emphatic restatement of the musical values that have traditionally been at the core of the WNO. Rizzi conducted with authority and passion, and with such care for his singers that where terminal decline had beckoned, he seemed to have effected a miracle cure.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:46 PM

Handel's Semele at Scottish Opera

Ambition, Deceit and Eroticism -- Handel's Semele at the SCO

19 February 2005

A tale of everyday mortals and gods entranced a nearly full house at beleaguered Scottish Opera last night with the same clever mix of pathos, wit, drama and humour that has kept nations' favourite soaps at the top of the viewing and listening schedules for decades. And it was the visual elements as much as the vocal and musical that clinched the success of this premiere performance last night. Director John la Bouchardiere (of "The Full Monteverdi" fame) worked with a light touch that engagingly mixed some pretty unusual elements into a confection that finally had the audience calling its approval. Likewise, young Christian Curnyn on the podium brought his Early Opera Company experience and love of truly modern stagings of Handel to bear, and managed to persuade the SCO orchestra to eschew both vibrato and swooping lines without adding any extra period instrumentalists, save a harpsichord. Apart from a slightly unconvincing first 10 minutes (of more later) they played with increasing verve and apparent conviction throughout.

If ambition looms large in this story of poor, upwardly-mobile but slightly foolish, Semele then so does deceit and eroticism. The former was much in evidence from the outset -- and it was the director deceiving the audience for the first ten minutes or so, as the curtain rose on a most unexpected scene. I suppose that I, and most of the audience, were expecting some revelation of new production -- perhaps an elaborate period set, perhaps a weird and wonderful Germanic "concept" design, perhaps -- nothing? Well that's what we got at first -- nothing. Or rather, just a few boring lines of grey metal office chairs set out for a chorus in a dark grey non-set, with four single ones in front, obviously for the four characters who start proceedings -- King Cadmus, Prince Athamas, Semele, and sister Ino. I began to wonder if I was here under false pretences and was about to see a "semi-staged" version of this opera/oratorio. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the house. And this was also the only time that I felt the orchestra was strangely detached from the drama, oddly jerky and with disconcerting moments of silence between some recitatives and arias or arioso.

But all became clear slowly -- very slowly -- as the pre-nuptial ceremonies commenced. The full chorus were in modern black gear, scores held out as in oratorio proper, and the four soloists also in sombre black modern dress and also clutching their music books for dear life began the formalities of Semele's forthcoming wedding to Prince Athamas. But, bit by bit, one noticed things not quite right, little glances, Semele looking more and more hunched and dejected, Athamas more and more puzzled, until at last the poor bride- to-be hurls herself away from the courtly protocol and declares herself for Love and Jove. Lisa Milne was in fine voice from the start with excellent diction and a nice touch in endearing silliness so necessary in explaining the subsequent action. Her soprano is rich and her coloratura assured and with breath to spare. Michael George was a resolute Cadmus (and later Somnus too) and his bass- baritone more than a match still for the orchestra below, although perhaps not as athletic as it once was. Athamas was sung by a countertenor new to me: Arnon Zlotnik. A tall, slender young man with an engaging if not particularly compelling stage presence who sang sweetly but without much dramatic power or expression as yet. As is the case often today, most of the role's original arias were cut and only one -- "Your Tuneful Voice" as he is "consoled" by Ino -- remained and was, sadly, somewhat lost in the singing. It requires a long legato line, heartfelt expressive despair and superb breath control to reveal the thing of beauty it really is. Best left to the likes of a David Daniels perhaps. Another experienced Handelian, Susan Bickley, lined up alongside Milne and George and took on the roles of both Ino and the vengeful Juno -- and very successfully pointed up the two so-different female characters by both vocal timbre and charming, and comical, expressivity. Her voice suffered a little from competition with the orchestra from time to time as she did not have the dynamic power of her fellow sopranos. The vocal "find" of the evening for me was young Kate Royal in the gift-role to actress-singers of Iris: PA to the Gods and generally inept fixer extraordinary. Hers is a strong, rich, and occasionally thrilling voice with huge potential, although at the expense of diction last night. Which leaves Jove, or Jupiter, himself: always a vocal pivot in this work and one of Handel's most interesting tenor roles when sung by an intelligent as well as highly competent singer. Both of which Jeremy Ovenden is, on this hearing. Since I last heard him, his voice seems to have grown in several ways and his line, power and coloratura were all excellent without ever going "out of style". Of course everyone was waiting for the "Big Song", and he despatched that most beautiful of Handelian love arias with both elegance and technical assurance, and we were transported to those Arcadian glades and saw those trees bow down with just an inflection of voice and a shift of light and shade. It was entrancing.

And that brings me to the most interesting aspect of this production: the light. Light as back-projected universe, light as mirror, light through a film lens and light as in defying gravity. This was the "Light Show Semele" I felt, and once we escaped the bleak opening scene, the full inventive skill of video artists, lighting designer, costumier and aerialists came into play. Yes, aerialists -- if this production had been presented a year or two earlier they could have advertised it as "direct from the Millennium Dome!" The first intimation of things of the air, rather than the earth, came when Jupiter -- in full elegant 18th Century kit -- doffed his hat in front of his beloved and it flew upwards and away into the heavens.... disconcerting for Semele as well as us. Another time "Iris" literally flew in to answer Juno's call for assistance -- cannily being replaced by Kate Royal at a vital moment in the wings. And why not? This was Up There, and the whole design seemed predicated on the contrast between the mortals' rather glum earth- bound existence and the floating, sun-kissed and gravity-defying world of the immortals. The best was left for the seduction of Somnus scene by scheming Juno: his besotted love for the nymph Pasiphae played upon by her teasing him with the sight of his heart's desire descending a rope, apparently completely naked although of course cleverly body-stockinged, and performing balletic aerial manoeuvres of a gentle eroticism that certainly woke the old duffer up and enabled the theft of his magical powers. Back projected images of the world spinning in the universe came and went at suitable moments, as did a wonderful piece of scenery: the floating pillow bed, refuge to Semele in moments of both ardour and despair. Looking rather like a huge inflatable dog bed, she either reposed on it, Lady Hamilton style, as it swung gently on near-invisible wires or it was used as prop when brought to earth for both Lisa Milne and Jeremy Ovenden to clamber over and on to. It also had the slightly discomfiting ability to move of its own accord across the stage -- one wondered for the safety of the singers if it ever got out of control -- which distracted one's attention from the music somewhat from time to time.

If there was a slight disappointment, it came at the end. After the visual delights of the earlier scenes, and a highly emotional death scene as Semele was pulled down into a dark opening breathing her last after Jupiter has carried out her fatal wish, (again cleverly achieved by effective mix of video and stage drama) I felt that the final redemptive, revelatory scene of Apollo's decree, and the birth of Bacchus from her ashes was rather short-changed and cursory. More could have been done I felt, and was left with a feeling that perhaps either the money or ideas had run out. But that is a minor grumble indeed, and not indicative of the effect of the whole.

The Glasgow audience was loud and long in its appreciation last night -- musical director Curnyn and stage director La Bouchardiere receiving much deserved plaudits for pulling off a delightful and, I hope, long-lived production that married so many theatrical elements very successfully. Don't let the words "multi-media" put you off seeing this most charming and elevated "Semele".

Sue Loder

Posted by Gary at 4:44 PM

Classical Music in the Blogosphere

Champions of music claim new cyber-turf

By Richard Scheinin [San Jose Mercury News, 20 Feb 05]

In a post last month on his popular blog about classical music, Alex Ross wrote that the music he loves ``exists off the radar screen of the major media'' these days. But ``it's actually kind of exciting,'' he added. ``If I were in the business of marketing classical music to younger audiences, I'd make a virtue of this. Classical music is the new underground.''

Classical music as the new underground: That compelling image hasn't really surfaced in mainstream media writing on the arts. But Ross, the New Yorker magazine's classical music critic, plows fertile ground all the time on his own blog, titled ``The Rest Is Noise,'' a daily read for a couple of thousand classical music fanatics.

On any given day, Ross may fire off an essay on his favorite Finnish conductors (the Finns are in); or he may send shock waves through the blogo- sphere by challenging the idea that dead silence in the concert hall -- no clapping allowed between the movements of a concerto, for instance -- is a good thing. He can be a learned cheerleader for the music, likely to declare that an opera singer or chamber ensemble rocks or is severe -- though, on a slow day, he simply may post photos of his cats.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:39 AM

Changes in the Recording Industry

Classical artists moving to 'boutique' recording

CLARKE BUSTARD [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 20 Feb 05]

Over the past five years, just about everybody in my line of work (including me) has weighed in on the decline of classical-music recording.

Norman Lebrecht, the English critic and high-culture gadfly, went so far as to write the industry's obituary last fall and begin compiling a retrospective list of its 100 greatest achievements. As of last week, his list was up to 23 discs. (It can viewed online at www.scena.org.)

The death notice is premature.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:39 AM

WNO Moves In

Welsh opera has a home at last

Charlotte Higgins [The Guardian, 21 Feb 05]

When conductor Carlo Rizzi stepped forward at the end of La Traviata to address a delighted audience in his Italian-accented Welsh, he was marking a piece of history. Welsh National Opera had, after 60 years of peripatetic homelessness, for the first time performed on a stage it could call its own.

It was not, admittedly, the Zaha Hadid-designed Cardiff Bay Opera House that had been on the table in 1992 when Rizzi had arrived as WNO's music director: but the #106m Wales Millennium Centre, a great, gleaming hulk of building in self-consciously Welsh stone, slate and wood, which opened its doors in November.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:39 AM

Survey Reveals Arts More Popular Than Sports

Go to the pub? We'd rather see the opera

Vanessa Thorpe [The Guardian, 20 Feb 05]

Music, drama and the visual arts really are second nature to the English, a national survey has conclusively shown. While news from Italy this weekend that the United Kingdom is regarded as the most cultured nation in Europe has been met with scepticism, it seems we should have a higher opinion of our chief pastimes on this island. DIY shops, fast food outlets and soccer violence are not even half the picture, it is now clear.

In the biggest survey of its kind, conducted by the Office of National Statistics for the Arts Council of England, it has emerged that participation and appreciation of the arts are more popular than sport and are widely indulged in across the social spectrum.

'It is good news that levels of attendance and participation have remained high against a backdrop of increased competition from other leisure activities,' said Kim Evans, an executive director at ACE.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:38 AM

Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas

Seattle opera lovers get encore of frequently requested "Florencia"

By Melinda Bargreen [Seattle Times, 20 Feb 05]

If you had to name an opera you thought Seattle music lovers were dying to see and hear, what would be your guess? "Carmen"? "Madame Butterfly"? Maybe the ever-beloved story of ill-fated young lovers, "La Boheme"?

Seattle Opera general director Speight Jenkins says it's none of the above. Instead, he gets the most requests from the public for a repeat of Daniel Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas," which was heard here in March 1998, shortly after its world premiere.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:38 AM

SALGADO: The Teatro Solis 150 years of Opera, Concert and Ballet in Montevideo

Salgado, Susana: The Teatro Solis 150 years of Opera, Concert and Ballet in Montevideo
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT, 2003, 493 pages
ISBN: 0-8195-6593-8 (cloth) 0-8195-6594-6 (paper)

During the latter half of the 19th century, and much of the 20th, countless opera companies, mostly Italian, but also some French and an occasional German, toured much of the Southeast coast of Latin America. Cities visited most frequently included Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro, and Sao Paulo, with occasional swings inland (Rosario and Cordoba), but sometimes going as far West as Santiago and Valparaiso.

From its inauguration on August 25, 1856 until well into the twentieth century, the Teatro Solis in Montevideo was one of the leading theatres in South America, and was probably not too far behind the major houses in Europe. This is hardly surprising since Montevideo is only a short trip from Buenos Aires, and most of the companies visiting Buenos Aires would spend a week or two there once the Buenos Aires season was over. Thus, almost all of the great artists of the period, including Caruso, Ruffo, Battistini, Tamagno, Tetrazzini, Stagno, Lauri-Volpi, De Lucia, Zenatello, Muzio, Anselmi, O'Sullivan, Schipa, Lazaro, etc., etc., sang there. The repertory was just as interesting as the artists, and works like Pacini's Medea and Bondelmonte are known to have been performed in Montevideo. Felice Romani's libretto for Donizetti's Parisina was used by a local composer named Giribaldi, and the opera was premiered at the Teatro Solis on September 14, 1878. It was repeated in 1899. There are any number of books already published on many legs of these tours, especially for Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Sao Paulo with various others in preparation. Dr. Salgado's effort is easily among the best and most useful of these, particularly because it covers the longest time frame (from 1856 to the present), and is in the English language.

A narrative history of the theatre takes up a little less than half the book, with various appendices taking up the rest. The narrative portion is outstanding in terms of readability, and covers highlights of each season, especially artists and operas new to Montevideo. Since the same companies invariably visited other major South American cities, this narrative really provides more than just a history of the Teatro Solis, being just as valuable for the insight it provides into opera in South America.

The chronology, which takes up most of the appendices, is a model of its kind, with dates and casts (as far as possible) of all the performances. Other appendices of special interest include artists who performed at the Solis (with references to the years they sang), musica works performed there, instrumental and vocal ensembles as well as ballet companies.

The book is copiously illustrated, and includes an exhaustive bibliography. Highly recommended.

Tom Kaufman

Posted by Gary at 1:10 AM

February 19, 2005

Troubles at La Scala

Scala in sciopero, saltano le prime

I lavoratori del Teatro incroceranno le braccia il 22 febbraio Sulla protesta pesa il caso del sovrintendente Fontana

[Corriere della Sera, 18 Feb 05]

MILANO - I lavoratori della Scala scendono in campo dopo che il Cda ha dato mandato al sindaco di "risolvere consensualmente" entro la prossima settimana il rapporto con il sovrintendente Carlo Fontana e proclamano uno sciopero per martedì prossimo, il giorno in cui agli Arcimboldi avrebbe dovuto debuttare La Dama di Picche di Ciaikovski (i possessori del biglietto potranno chiederne il rimborso alla Biglietteria del teatro alla Scala, ndr).

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

Verdi's Otello at Opéra-Bastille

Valery Gergiev dirige avec feu à Bastille un "Otello" controversé

[Le Monde, 19 Feb 05]

Le chef d'orchestre russe a été ovationné le 17 février par le public et par les musiciens.

Ce ne sont pas des notes qui jaillissent de la baguette de Valery Gergiev, c'est un foudroiement : une tempete d'air, d'eau, de feu qui déchire l'espace et fige d'horreur le chœur des Chypriotes massés au port pour le retour vainqueur d'Otello. Une puissance dévastatrice, métaphysique.

Le sorcier Gergiev fait là ses premières armes en tant que l'un des sept chefs permanents de l'Opéra de Paris. Il s'impose d'emblée comme le héros de cette reprise d'Otello dans la mise en scène controversée d'Andreïaut; Serban (Le Monde du 11 mars 2004). Longuement ovationné, le chef d'orchestre russe a également reçu de l'Orchestre de l'Opéra un hommage appuyé.

Debout dans la fosse, ces musiciens, réputés irréductibles, ont adoubé le flamboyant patron du Mariinski de Saint-Pétersbourg, l'applaudissant alors qu'il quittait son pupitre pour saluer en scène.

Galvanisant Gergiev ! tant par le charisme de sa direction ardente et précise que par l'époustouflante liberté avec laquelle il mène à son terme le drame verdien.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:36 PM

PENDERECKI: A Polish Requiem

Krzysztof Penderecki, A Polish Requiem
Izabela K

Posted by Gary at 7:04 PM

Renée Fleming in Boston

Renée Fleming sang the Boston leg of her current recital tour last night at Symphony Hall accompanied by the distinguished German pianist Hartmut Höll. Not only was Ms Fleming in free, shimmering and beautifully controlled voice, but last night's program of Purcell, Handel, Berg and Schumann was some of her most disciplined work in a very long time.

I am not a great fan of vocal recitals at Symphony, not only because of the hall's size, but because a recitalist inevitably looks isolated on the huge platform and the Hall's unattractive stage lighting creates neither mood nor intimacy. Jordan Hall is far more suitable except as to capacity for so popular an artist. Fleming, however, possesses a big enough voice and personality to fill Symphony's huge expanses, and enough star power to fill its seats last night. Currently very blond, she passed on her customary Ferré gown in favor of Oscar de la Renta in very pale champagne beige with sequins, adding a fourteen foot long semi-sheer white chiffon stole in the second half for well managed dramatic effect. Audience response was rapturous.

The program began with Purcell's "The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation," a kind of mini-mad scene for Mary and the sort of angular, dramatic and vocally demanding piece recitalists often favor as warm-up material. An extended recitative is followed by two cantilena sections. It's a strange and fascinating piece that didn't pull into focus until Ms Fleming settled down to show her legato phrasing near the end. Thereafter, everything was very much under control. The Purcell selections were "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias, "I take no pleasure in the sun's bright beams," "I attempt from love's sickness to fly" from The Indian Queen and "O, let me weep" from The Fairy Queen. The Purcell brought out the first well executed coloratura of the evening and what would also be a theme in the Handel to come — intimate, beautifully sustained laments that held the audience in hushed attention. The swooping portamenti and other liberties that have been controversial in some of Ms Flemings work were left back in the "Expostulation's" recitative — throughout the evening there was a clean line and great attention to dynamic shading.

The Handel began with a fleet, vivacious "Oh! Had I Jubal's lyre" from Joshua, and proceeded through a finely spun "O sleep, why dost thou leave me?" (extended applause) and "To fleeting pleasures make your court" from Samson which was played in character as a seductive, kittenish Dalila. Another lament, "Calm thou my soul/Convey me to some peaceful shore" from Alexander Balus was followed by "Endless pleasure" from Semele, also performed in character as a deliciously self-absorbed coquette.

There was a complete change of mood after intermission. Surrounded by diaphanous chiffon, Fleming let out her opalescent tone generously in Alban Berg's "Sieben frühe Lieder." She preceded the set with a request that the audience please hold applause until after each of the lieder sets. They did so in the gorgeously sung Berg but their discipline broke down a bit toward the end of the Schumann set that consisted of eight songs: Ständchen, Mondnacht, Er ist's!, Hauptmann's Weib, Hochländisches Wiegenlied and Du bist wie eine Blume (both to texts by Robert Burns as translated into German), Aufträge and Stille Tränen. The Schumann was sung simply, directly and with warmth.

There were four encores: a thrilling, full bore performance of Strauss's Cecilia (Fleming said she hates to do a recital without Strauss somewhere in the evening); Puccini's "O mio babbino caro;" a surprisingly restrained version of Ms Fleming's art nouveau arrangement of "Somewhere over the rainbow" that had been purged of about 50% of its usual departures from the vocal line (the crowd loved it); and a lovely, shimmering performance of Maietta's Lied from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt notable for its perfect legato and for the elegance of Hartmut Höll's playing of the extended postlude.

Höll's accompaniment was a revelation. Widely celebrated for his lengthy collaborations with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and mezzo Mitsuko Shirai in German Lieder, among many other distinctions, he brought style, elegance and support (rather than competition with the soloist) to the program, scaling his volume perfectly to Ms Fleming's, letting his beautifully colored and shaded tone ring out fully only in the Berg in which she herself let fly in an appropriate late Romantic manner. Theirs was a most rewarding collaboration.

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted by Gary at 6:41 PM

Merkur Interviews Film Director Doris Dörrie — Rigoletto at Bayerischen Staatsoper

Weil ich wahnsinnig bin

"Rigoletto": Gespräch mit Regisseurin Doris Dörrie

[Merkur Online, 18 Feb 05]

Das kann ja schon mal passieren: Die eigene Tochter verliebt sich ausgerechnet in den blödesten Affen der Welt. Eine Vorstellung zum Verzweifeln. Filmregisseurin Doris Dörrie will ganz bewusst solche Assoziationen wecken - und zwar mit ihrer ersten Münchner Operninszenierung. "Rigoletto", sagt sie, "ist ein so egoistischer Vater. Aber ich kann ihn verstehen. Auch heute würde jeder von uns, der eine 15-jährige Tochter hat, sie am liebsten wegsperren." Am kommenden Montag hat im Münchner Nationaltheater Giuseppe Verdis "Rigoletto" Premiere. Es singen u. a. Diana Damrau (Gilda), Mark Delavan (Rigoletto), Ramon Vargas (Herzog). Zubin Mehta dirigiert.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:29 AM

February 18, 2005

KRAMER: Opera and Modern Culture — Wagner and Strauss

Among the leading scholars of the "new musicology" is Lawrence Kramer. Opera and Modern Culture is another work in his quest to clarify the many roles of music in Western society through intellectual discourse. Kramer does not engage in a recitation of facts but rather invites the reader to an intellectual exercise of "thinking through Opera." By their very nature, philosophical discourses tend to indulge themselves in semantics. Kramer's use of guiding concepts (philosophical and symbolic investiture, the norm, Opera), often varies. As he states it, they do not act as "leitmotifs throughout this book," and are rarely "invoked by name." Kramer sees this as an effort not to "box [his] topic in . . . but to open it out in as many dimensions as possible." Others however, may find it to be a matter of "too many words," to paraphrase Peter Schafer.

This investigation of opera and modern culture may be summed up as follows: An exploration of the manner in which opera's legendary antithetical states of being, debasement and supremacy, as exemplified in select operas of Wagner and Strauss -- Lohengrin, The Ring, Parsifal, Salome, and Elektra -- creates a certain idea of opera, a "generic fiction," which is termed Opera (capital O), and, which in turn, influences modern culture's norms of desire, identity and social order. Do not be misled. Wagner and Strauss are not being indicted. They are seen as "symptoms of Opera" -- Wagner as a "symptom of modernity" and Strauss as the "very incarnation of modernity in music." To add to this mix, prominent topics of current opera scholarship intertwine with those of social and cultural history, thus further tightening the weave.

There are indeed risks involved in creating a "tight weave" between music and modern culture. As Kramer expects, "old questions of subjectivity and appropriation in interpretation . . . [for some readers] will rear their ugly heads." (16) Why would they not? New theories or speculations regarding the ethnomusicology of opera -- is this not fundamentally the discourse? -- have no litmus test other than that of time. The intention of such philosophical studies is to engage the reader to think in a new way about an established subject or topic, to question. Whether the questions are old or new, attractive or not, they help the "new thinker" to refine and hone the point, keeping the tumblers turning in the search for truth. In this regard, Kramer's "speculative foray" into opera and modern culture is quite effective. The concerns raised in this book regarding the phenomenon of Opera overlap with those of general world concerns via Opera. In terms of the latter, two of the best discourses in the book are chapter two, "Contesting Wagner: The Lohengrin Prelude and Anti-Anti-Semitism" and chapter five, "Modernity's Cutting Edge: The Salome Complex." The erotic/sexual/psychosexual philosophical discussions however, are becoming tiresome.

Running the continuum of debasement and supremacy, with humanity seeming to prefer debasement, Kramer arrives at a "norm" in Opera, in which the abnormal is actually the hidden truth of the normal; where Wagner is both the cause and the cure for "modernity" and Strauss is the "Wagnerian remainder." This "speculative foray" is not meant to be a walk in the park. It is an intense inquiry, but one that is masterfully crafted.

Geraldine M. Rohling

image_description=Lawrence Kramer: Opera and Modern Culture — Wagner and Strauss

product_title=Lawrence Kramer: Opera and Modern Culture — Wagner and Strauss
product_by= Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, 258 pp.
product_id=ISBN 0-520-21012-3

Posted by Gary at 10:44 PM

Oleg Caetani New Music Director at ENO

ENO names new music director

[Gramophone, 18 Feb 05]

English National Opera has appointed Oleg Caetani as its next music director. He will begin the position in September 2006, succeeding Paul Daniel who leaves in July this year after eight years in the role.

Caetani will divide his time between London and Melbourne, where he is chief conductor and artistic director of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra - a role he began last month on a four-year contract. He plans to take up residence in London.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:04 PM

A Star Is Born

Singer found voice, home and wife in Lexington

By Rich Copley [Lexington Herald-Leader, 18 Feb 05]

Phumzile Sojola got the call less than 36 hours before the concert.

University of Kentucky alum Gregory Turay, who was set to be the featured soloist on the Lexington Philharmonic's Feb. 4 concert, was sick and might not be able to sing. The orchestra needed a tenor in the wings. OK, Sojola thought. He knew the scheduled arias.

Sojola put on his "church clothes" and went to the philharmonic's rehearsal.

"I go to sing the first aria, Questa o quella, the first aria from Rigoletto, and I thought it went well," he said. "That didn't feel so bad. Then we go to the second, La donna e mobile. It's harder. I'm like, 'Oh my God, this is hard.' All of a sudden, the pressure is getting to me. ... I thought it was going really bad."

But he got encouragement from members of the orchestra and his voice teacher, Everett McCorvey. And the following night, when he did have to fill in for the ailing Turay on a portion of the program, Sojola turned in a crowd-pleasing performance that probably sold some tickets to the UK Opera Theatre's production of Madama Butterfly, which opened last night and continues through next weekend. Sojola plays the male lead, Pinkerton, in Saturday night's show.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:58 PM

The 12th BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition

Singer of World contest selection

Contestants from 25 countries have been selected to battle it out in what many consider to be one of the world's premier singing competitions.

During the 12th BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Soprano Camilla Roberts, from Cardiff, will represent Wales.

Originally from Wrexham, she was winner of the 2004 Welsh Singers Competition last June.

The competition will be held between 11-19 June at St David's Hall and the city's New Theatre.

Dame Joan Sutherland has returned this year as the competition's patron.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:36 PM

Le Figaro Profiles Valery Gergiev

Valery Gergiev, le météore

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 17 Feb 05]

Pas facile à coincer, Valery Gergiev. Le chef russe le plus charismatique de sa génération a voué sa vie au Kirov de Saint-Pétersbourg, dont il a fait l'un des théâtres lyriques les plus recherchés du monde. Mais il anime aussi trois festivals : les Nuits blanches de Saint-Pétersbourg, le Festival de Pâques de Moscou et celui de Mikkeli en Finlande. N'oublions pas non plus qu'il est directeur musical de l'Orchestre philharmonique de Rotterdam, premier chef invité du Metropolitan Opera de New York, et l'un des maestros préférés du Philharmonique de Vienne, qu'il dirige tant au Musikverein qu'au Festival de Salzbourg et en tournée. Avec un tel calendrier, guère de place pour des invitations à droite et à gauche, et s'il a fait récemment ses débuts aux "Proms" de Londres avec l'Orchestre symphonique de la BBC, c'était une exception dont on se demande si elle va se généraliser, donnant un nouveau tour à une carrière jusqu'ici focalisée sur quatre orchestres.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:48 AM

February 17, 2005

British Opera's Immigration Problem

A run-through for your money

[Daily Telegraph, 17 Feb 05]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Madama Butterfly by the Ukranian National Opera of Odessa, Touring

The almost constant touring by east European opera and ballet companies continues to be a significant feature of the British cultural scene, and one that requires a little attention.

We ought to be aware that the artists involved are working an exhausting schedule in difficult circumstances that British unions rightly would not tolerate. And there is no doubt that their one-night-stand activities steal audiences away from our own subsidised organisations.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:27 PM

Daily Telegraph Interviews Lisa Gasteen

Wild side of the Valkyrie

[Daily Telegraph, 17 Feb 05]

Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen, who plays Brünnhilde in the second part of the Royal Opera's 'Ring' cycle next month, talks to Rupert Christiansen about her tempestuous route to the top

When she was a teenager, Lisa Gasteen was thrown out of a school folk group for singing too loud. Now, established as one of the world's premier Wagnerian sopranos, her ability to turn up the volume comes in handy. In 2001, she made a triumphant debut at Covent Garden as Isolde; next month, she returns to halloo "Hojotoho" as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre, the second instalment of the Royal Opera's new production of the Ring, conducted by Antonio Pappano.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:10 PM

Marcello Viotti Has Died

Conductor Marcello Viotti Dies in Germany

By GEIR MOULSON [AP, 17 Feb 05]

BERLIN - Marcello Viotti, the music director of Venice's famed La Fenice Theater who also conducted at New York's Metropolitan Opera and other leading houses, died at a German hospital after falling into a coma. He was 50.

Viotti died Wednesday night after being in a coma for several days at a clinic in Munich, Germany, his agent, Paul Steinhauser, said by telephone from Vienna, Austria.

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Posted by Gary at 3:49 PM

Edinburgh International Festival Confronts Cash Crunch

Festival facing a #600,000 crisis as aid deal is delayed

PHIL MILLER [Herald & Times, 16 Feb 05]

This year's Edinburgh International Festival was facing a cash crisis last night after the postponement of a #600,000 emergency funding package.

Last week, it emerged that Brian McMaster, director and chief executive of the EIF, had requested the money from Edinburgh City Council and EventScotland because the festival's funding was "meeting the buffers".

He warned that the event may have to cancel some of its programme of opera, dance, music and theatre without the money.

However, yesterday the executive committee of the council decided to postpone a decision on its #300,000 grant, which would, if agreed, trigger a further #300,000 payment from EventScotland.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:27 AM

Nabucco at the Met — Another View

Verdi's lament and plea for deliverance


NABUCCO. Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Temistocle Solera. Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting. Through March 8 at Lincoln Center. Call 212-362-6000 or visit www.metopera.org.

Biography can be a distorting lens through which to view art. A case in point is Verdi's "Nabucco" (1842), his first great success, which followed the deaths of his children and wife between 1838 and 1840 and the humiliating failure of his second opera.

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Click here for the author's blog.

Posted by Gary at 1:43 AM

Classical Music — It's No Longer A Man's World

Modern classics

After centuries of male domination, an Old World art form is changing its tune

By Lucia Mauro [Chicago Tribune, 16 Feb 05]

Since the time of Claudio Monteverdi, the Italian composer who lived from 1567 to 1643, classical music has been a man's world. With some exceptions — such as 19th Century pianist-composer Clara Schumann — women achieved lim-ited prominence in the centuries-old art form.

That is changing, and although they are still in the minority, women are appearing more frequently at the highest levels of classical music.

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Posted by Gary at 1:40 AM

Cosi fan tutte at San Diego

Conductor relishes return to Mozart opera 'Cosi fan tutte'

By: PAM KRAGEN [No. County Times, 16 Feb 05]

For San Diego Opera conductor Karen Keltner, returning to the score of Mozart's opera "Cosi fan tutte" is like slipping on a pair of well-worn leather gloves. The music fits snugly with the vocal parts, and the luxurious feel of the piece improves with each wearing.

Keltner, resident conductor and music administrator for San Diego Opera since 1982, has conducted "Cosi fan tutte" three or four times in the past, but never, she says, with such a fine cast as that assembled for the production opening Saturday.

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Posted by Gary at 1:22 AM

Semele in Scotland — Another View

Saved by the kiss of life

CONRAD WILSON [Herald & Times, 16 Feb 05]

In Scottish Opera's early days, Handel was not a high priority. Debussy, Verdi, Mozart and Mussorgsky were the composers with whom the company made its name. As a Handel conductor, Alexander Gibson - like Pierre Boulez - went no further than the Water Music. In his role as administrator, Peter Hemmings was forthright and forbidding. Handel's operas, he declared, were the kiss of death.

Well, they are not now. Since the days when Handel's operas were left to the Handel Opera Society to perform, these eighteenth-century fossils - Radamisto, Rodelinda, Ottone, Serse - have emerged full of life from their museum. No longer do they need specialist companies or country-house festivals to rescue them. Everybody is at it. Characteristically, Sir Charles Mackerras was the first in Britain to champion Semele by conducting it at Sadler's Wells in 1970 and later at Covent Garden.

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Posted by Gary at 1:12 AM

February 16, 2005

Tristan und Isolde at Geneva — Other Views

Tristan und Isolde, Grand Théâtre, Geneva

By Francis Carlin [Financial Times, 16 Feb 05]

Faced with Wagner's marathon symphonic poem with voices, it is easy to see why producers are panicked into hyperactivity. Olivier Py's new staging does just that. Wagner whittled down the characters to the bare minimum, to present an unadulterated account of doomed passion. Py, a promising, provocative talent in France but on this evidence short on maturity and focus, elects to flood the stage, literally in act three, with supernumeraries and hackneyed symbolism that feeds on Shakespeare and Arthurian legend.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Voyage au coeur de l'âme wagnérienne

Genève : de notre envoyé spécial Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 15 Feb 05]

Avec Tristan et Isolde, Olivier Py monte son premier Wagner. On imagine d'ici l'appréhension des spectateurs frileux. Il y en a, à Genève comme ailleurs : n'allait-il pas mettre en scène ses propres fantasmes d'identité sexuelle ? Les frileux en ont été pour leurs frais : d'abord parce que la faute du désir est déjà au centre de Tristan, ensuite parce que le travail théâtral de Py est tout entier au service de la pièce et de ses enjeux les plus profonds. Tristan nous parle du rapport complexe entre le jour et la nuit, cette dernière représentant la synthèse réussie entre l'amour et la mort. Tristan nous parle de héros qui aspirent à abolir le temps et l'espace, non pas en allant vers l'accomplissement de leur destin, mais en remontant le temps jusqu'aux origines. Et c'est précisément tout cela que nous montre Olivier Py.

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Posted by Gary at 5:50 PM

Verdi's Nabucco at the Met

Allowing a Warhorse to Enjoy Free Rein

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 16 Feb 05]

There is an honesty to Elijah Moshinsky's four-year-old production of Verdi's "Nabucco," which returned to the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night. No excuses are made for the opera's creaky theatrical state, no attempts to bring up-to-date relevance to what became a symbol of revolution and national unity for Italians 160 years ago.

Mr. Moshinsky does not shrink from the melodramatic gesture, shuffling chorus movement or stand-and-deliver set piece. He realizes, I think, that "Nabucco" will never be modern theater and lets it continue its ride into posterity on the back of Verdi's music and its astonishing reserves of energy.

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Posted by Gary at 5:26 PM

Die Zauberflöte at ROH

Magic Flute

Robert Thicknesse at Covent Garden [Times Online, 16 Feb 05]

AN ODD thing about David McVicar's productions is the way they improve with time. When this show first appeared it was too po-faced by half, full of regard for the pomposities of the piece but hardly at ease with its lightness, enchantment and childish simplicity.

Well, now the staging has grown a heart and a sense of wonder and comes close to truly discovering both the gravity and play of the piece. How much of this is due to Lee Blakeley, who took charge of this revival, is hard to say, but the pattern is interesting.

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Die Zauberflöte

Erica Jeal [The Guardian, 16 Feb 05]

With his Clemenza di Tito at ENO overlapping with his Zauberflöte at Covent Garden, David McVicar seems to be bidding for a monopoly on London's supply of Mozart opera. And no bad thing. Revived by Lee Blakeley, his 2003 Zauberflöte may tell us more about man's changing view of his place in the world at the time of the opera's composition than it does about the struggle between good and evil, but at least it tells us something.

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Posted by Gary at 5:17 PM

Julius Caesar in Hamburg

Aleksandra Kurzak (Cleopatra), Kate Aldrich (Cesare)

Die Liebe im Räderwerk der Macht

Staatsoper: Frech, flott, fröhlich, freizügig: Karoline Gruber inszenierte Händels "Giulio Cesare in Egitto".

Von Joachim Mischke [Hamburger Abendblatt, 16 Feb 05]

Hamburg - These. Antithese. Synthese. So einfach ist das manchmal. Anstatt ein sehr abstraktes, gern auch sehr allegorisches Genre wie die Barock-Oper in ein um Wirklichkeit bemühtes Regie-Korsett zwingen zu wollen, das ihren schillernden Typen das Entrückte, Allgemeingültige nehmen würde, geht Karoline Gruber bei "Giulio Cesare in Egitto" einen ganz eigenen, ganz cleveren Regie-Weg: Zuerst wird auf Pointe komm raus gealbert und überdreht. Dann auf Gedeih und Verderb geliebt. Im dritten Akt ohne Wenn und Aber geläutert. Die Katharsis kommt spät, aber gewaltig.

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Posted by Gary at 4:01 PM

February 15, 2005

Gounod's Faust in Cleveland

Jan Lenica: Faust (Gounod)

Cleveland Opera tweaks dark, lovely `Faust'

UA's Brian Johnson sings heavy role in tale of pact with the devil

By Elaine Guregian [Akron Beacon Journal, 14 Feb 05]

"Making a pact with the devil'' is one of those expressions that have gotten diluted with overuse. Nobody really means it when they say it, unless maybe they happen to be talking about Charles Gounod's opera Faust, where the music is as transcendently lovely as the story line is dark.

But what if Gounod's Faust had, if not a happy ending, then one more like A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life or even that famous season of Dallas? Would it be a relief to turn back the scenes of the elderly Faust trying to regain his youth and in so doing, running roughshod over the life of an innocent young woman?

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Posted by Gary at 11:09 PM

Semele in Scotland

A new Handel on a forgotten 'baudy opera'

KENNETH WALTON [The Scotsman, 13 Feb 05]

WHY IS IT we feel so comfortable with the Handel who wrote such pot-boilers as the Hallelujah Chorus, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, Music for the Royal Fireworks or Water Music, yet dread the thought of sitting through one of his many operas?

After all, some of the arias are well-enough known, and very likely rank among most easy-listeners' CD collections - classics such as Ombra Mai Fu, better known as the Largo from Xerxes; or Where'er You Walk, immortalised in my school days by the popular Scots tenor Kenneth McKellar. But the operas from which they come remain risky box office.

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Posted by Gary at 10:55 PM

La Traviata As Ballet Stumbles

Verdi's genius betrayed

[Daily Telegraph, 15 Feb 05]

Ismene Brown reviews La traviata by the Northern Ballet Theatre at the Grand Theatre, Leeds

This is the way the art of ballet will end, with a sentimental whimper, an easy tear in its eye, and not a squeak of true life as theatrical dance. If the novelisation of successful movies is thought a pretty bogus form of literature, how much worse is a balletisation of an opera masterpiece such as Verdi's La traviata.

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Posted by Gary at 10:33 PM

Opera Colorado Presents Julius Caesar

Modern staging of 'Caesar' not your average 'date opera'

By Marc Shulgold [Rocky Mountain News, 15 Feb 05]

Odd that Opera Colorado would encourage ticket-buyers for its production of Julius Caesar to "Bring your Valentine . . . and witness a love so great it changed the course of history."

This, be advised, is not your typical love story, nor is it a date opera. Just as the production that opened Saturday at the Buell Theatre is hardly your basic, by-the-book staging. For starters, Handel's legendary leading lovers, Caesar and Cleopatra, are both sung by women. And, yes, they do smooch - sort of.

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Posted by Gary at 10:23 PM

Importing Western Productions to the Bolshoi

Elena Zelenskaya as Leonora ("La Forza del Destino")


Moscow. (Olga Sobolevskaya, RIA Novosti commentator.)

RIA Novosti [14 Feb 05]

Operatic and ballet productions imported from the West are becoming increasingly prominent on the repertory of the Bolshoi, Russia's largest music theater. Local audiences met such imports with circumspection, but are now growing to like them.

As a matter of fact, there isn't much else to check out at the Bolshoi these days. The revived Soviet-era productions may be of top quality, but they look outdated from the modern day's perspective. There are some fresh original shows, such as Dmitri Chernyakov's version of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," but these are far too few to build a full-scale repertory upon.

Russian audiences, who in the past may have rejected many of these borrowed productions as too bold and unconventional, are becoming increasingly open-minded about experimentation on the West's contemporary theater scene-thanks in no small measure to the arts & culture television network Kultura, bringing the latest in European and American innovations.

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Posted by Gary at 2:41 AM

José van Dam in New York

Wandering Dreamily Along, Then Crying to the Heavens

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 14 Feb 05]

Recitals should be about something, I always say. So I should have been delighted that "dans ce vague d'un Dimanche," on a dreamy Sunday (a line from Debussy's song "L'échelonnement des haies") at Alice Tully Hall, José van Dam, the excellent Belgian bass-baritone, perfectly suited his delivery to words like "parcourent en revant les coteaux enchantées/ ou, jadis, sourit ma jeunesse" ("wandering dreamily across the enchanted slopes where, once, my youth smiled"), a line from Fauré's "Automne."

But "En sourdine," or "Muted," the title of another Fauré song, was a little too apt a description of the first half of the program, in which Mr. van Dam dreamily wandered through an enchanted thicket of Fauré songs, not quite up to the smiles of his youth. It sounded as if he wasn't warmed up, and he seemed oddly out of focus, reading the music from a stand as if he hadn't fully internalized it.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:21 AM

Bernstein's Candide in London


Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 14 Feb 05]

Leonard Bernstein's Candide may only have been written 50 years ago, but it presents as many problems of texts and editions as any baroque opera that mouldered in an ecclesiastical library for three or four centuries. The idea of turning Voltaire's scabrously satirical novella into an operetta was originally Lillian Hellman's, but five other writers eventually contributed to the piece, while for the rest of his life Bernstein carried on worrying away at it too.

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Posted by Gary at 2:07 AM

L'Express Interviews Natalie Dessay

Natalie Dessay

"L'opéra nous fait tomber de bonheur"

propos recueillis par Bertrand Dermoncourt [L'Express, 14 Feb 05]

Il y a un miracle Natalie Dessay. Sa Reine de la Nuit (dans La Flute enchantée, de Mozart) ou son Olympia (des Contes d'Hoffmann, d'Offenbach), irrésistibles de présence et de drolerie, ont déjà marqué l'histoire de l'opéra. On se régale de sa présence sur scène, de son tempérament explosif, on admire sa voix de soprano léger à la virtuosité sans limites, et on respecte la femme, diva humble et sincère. On aime Natalie, on croit la connaître, mais elle reste un mystère. Après une saison triomphale, couronnée par un enregistrement (Amor, consacré à la musique de Richard Strauss, chez Virgin Classics) et une victoire de la musique, soudain, patatras! Comme il y a deux ans, une opération des cordes vocales oblige la chanteuse à annuler des représentations. Le doute et la peur viennent ébranler ce petit bout de femme d'ordinaire débordant d'énergie. Pourquoi? Natalie Dessay s'en explique ici

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 12:59 AM

Tristan und Isolde at Grand Théâtre de Genève

Magistral "Tristan und Isolde" de Wagner par Olivier Py

A Genève, une version à la fois plastique et musicale par le metteur en scène français.

Genève de notre envoyée spéciale [Le Monde, 14 Feb 05]

Le metteur en scène français Olivier Py a conçu une nouvelle production de Tristan, de Wagner - la première depuis vingt ans à l'Opéra de Genève. A pari téméraire, réussite exemplaire : le metteur en scène, auteur et comédien français réalise une magistrale version du chef-d'œuvre wagnérien, plastique et superlativement musicale, intelligente et hautement sensible. Un Tristan tiré au cordeau que magnifient les ingénieux décors de Pierre-André Weits, les lumières d'Olivier Py et une direction d'acteurs aboutie.

Tout cela est perceptible durant tout le premier acte, avec le lent passage du "navire night" des amants, de la proue à la poupe, bateau flanqué de brillantes voiles noires, labyrinthe aux escaliers métalliques et bastingages marqués au néon, avançant vers l'inexorable.

La mise en scène est métaphorique de la mélodie infinie de Wagner, d'un temps de l'âme suspendu entre vie et mort, du désir inassouvi de Tristan et Isolde se résolvant au troisième acte dans la transfiguration de la "Liebestod" (la mort d'amour).

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Posted by Gary at 12:50 AM

Tosca at Bayerische Staatsoper

Roberto Alagna: Portrait by Simon Fowler for EMI

Der Sonnyboy Cavaradossi

Staatsoper: Roberto Alagna in "Tosca"

[Merkur-Online, 14 Feb 05]

Es gibt CD-Aufnahmen mit Roberto Alagna, auf denen erkennt man seine Stimme nicht wieder. Entspannt und schmiegsam klingt sie da, ebenmässig und mit sehr dezenten Nuancierungen - genauso also, wie im dritten "Tosca"-Akt an der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Das "E lucevan le stelle" behandelte der München-Debütant ganz behutsam, nicht als Nummer eines Schlagerabends, sondern wie eine versonnene Erinnerung an Vergangenes - also der Situation kurz vor dem tödlichen Schuss durchaus angemessen.

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Posted by Gary at 12:38 AM

February 14, 2005

SCHUMANN AND BRAHMS: Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden

Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden

Clara & Robert Schumann, Brahms: Lieder & Briefe.
Werner Güra, tenor, Christoph Berner, piano.
Harmonia Mundi CD HMC 901842

The CD entitled Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden contains a selection of music by three friends who composed Lieder: Robert Schumann, his wife Clara, and their colleague Johannes Brahms. Their friendship is well known, and this recording is an attempt to pay tribute to what Berner calls "the manifold interactions between this artistic trinity" by presenting music by each of them; the pieces include Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 24, seven Lieder by Clara Schumann, and ten of Brahms' Deutsche Volkslieder, WoO 33.

This recording is based on a semi-staged recital that involved both of the performers on this CD, Werner Güra and Christoph Berner, and also the actress Meriam Abbas. As mentioned in the notes that accompany the recording, the original program was not only a performance of Lieder by these three composers, but also readings of excerpts from their correspondence. While none of the readings are included on the CD, the extensive booklet bound with the CD includes excerpts from relevant letters in the original German, along with translations in French and English.

Beyond the unique concept behind this particular CD, the recording itself contains some fine performances of Lieder in general. Güra is known for some of his interpretations of tenor roles in operas by Mozart and Rossini, and he has also given Lieder recitals. This particular CD offers an excellent opportunity to hear him perform both familiar music, like the cycle by Robert Schumann, and works that are less well known, like the songs by Clara Schumann. With Brahms, Güra has chosen some excellent songs that show various moods and styles, and Berner is quite deft at handling the sometimes intricate rhythms Brahms used in these settings. Yet the selection of music by Clara Schumann offers some fine examples of her Lieder, which show her mastery of the genre. These songs deserve the kind of striking performances that Güra provides along with the discreet and supportive accompaniment by Christoph Berner. For those unfamiliar with Clara's Lieder, the seven presented here are a good introduction to her work in this genre.

Güra and Berner work well together in Robert Schumann's Liederkreis, Op. 24, and it is from the setting at the center of this cycle, "Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden" ("Beautiful cradle of my sorrow") that the CD takes its name. This is an effective performance of the cycle for the clarity of the melodic line that emerges from some of the more involved keyboard writing. Some of the pieces in this cycle are highly dramatic, but even when the music demands a loud dynamic level, Güra does not resort to histrionics, but rather stays within the lyrical parameters that are essential to Schumann's style. Likewise, his diction is always clear, and the inflections he uses with the text contribute to the overall musicality of the performance.

All in all, the music on this CD is well chosen, and both Güra and Berner show themselves to be adept at interpreting Lieder by three composers who approach vocal music individually. Those familiar with Schumann's Lieder should find this performance of the Liederkreis, op. 24, to be engaging; likewise, the selection from Clara's songs and also Brahms' settings of folktunes make this recording worthy of attention.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 3:13 AM

February 13, 2005

CUI: A Feast in Time of Plague
RACHMANINOV: The Miserly Knight

César Cui: A Feast in Time of Plague; Three Scherzos, Op. 82; Les Deux Ménétriers, Op. 42; Fair Spring (Echoes of War, Op. 66 No. 4); Budrys and His Sons, Op. 98.

Andrei Baturkin (baritone), Alexei Martinov (tenor), Dmitri Stepanovich (bass), Ludmila Kuznetsova (mezzo-soprano), Tatiana Sharova (soprano), Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Valeri Polyansky
Chandos CHAN 10201

Sergey Rachmaninov: The Miserly Knight, Op. 24.

Mikhail Guzhov (bass), Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor), Andrei Baturkin (baritone), Borislav Molchanov (tenor), Vitaly Efanov (bass), Russian State Symphony Orchestra, Valeri Polyansky
Chandos CHAN 10264

These new Chandos recordings present Valeri Polyansky and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in two little-known Russian operas of the early twentieth century, Sergei Rachmaninov's The Miserly Knight (1905), and César Cui's A Feast in Time of Plague (1900), the latter recorded for the first time. Each work is a setting of one of Alexander Pushkin's Little Tragedies (1830), a series of four short plays in blank verse that elaborate on popular literary topics: "Don Juan, or The Stone Guest," "The Miserly Knight," "Mozart and Salieri," and "A Feast in Time of Plague." Sharply penetrating psychological portraits of people consumed by their obsessions - passion, greed, jealousy, and fear - Pushkin's "dramatic scenes" have enjoyed a near cult status among the classics of Russian literature over the past 175 years. So has the first attempt to set one of them to music - a radical 1869 word-for-word setting of The Stone Guest by Alexander Dargomyzhsky (1813-69). Cast almost entirely as a continuous arioso, the work was proclaimed a revolution in operatic style by the Russian Five whose unbridled enthusiasm contributed to its enduring reputation.

The example of The Stone Guest inspired other Russian composers to set the remaining Little Tragedies in a similarly continuous declamatory style. Rimsky-Korsakov chose Mozart and Salieri, a retelling of an old legend that presents both a brilliant portrait of the power of jealousy, and a thoughtful meditation on the nature of genius. The remaining two Tragedies were claimed by the aging César Cui (1835-1918) and his younger colleague Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943).

Known primarily for his Schumannesque art songs and piano miniatures, and for his fiery press critiques, Cui was in fact one of the most prolific opera composers among the Russian Five. Overshadowed by Musorgsky, Borodin, and Rimsky-Korsakov's scores, few of his fifteen works in the genre achieved success in his lifetime, and none have remained in the repertoire. Recordings are a rarity; a rediscovery of Cui's operatic legacy, therefore, is long overdue. The choice of a Pushkin "little tragedy" as a source was a natural one for Cui. A Dargomyzhsky acolyte, he was chosen by that composer to complete The Stone Guest left unfinished at his death, and since then took every opportunity to proclaim the work's merits in print.

Following his mentor's example, Cui created a word-for-word setting of A Feast in Time of Plague, without an intervening libretto. The story, adapted by Pushkin from an 1816 dramatic poem by John Wilson (1785-1854), is set in a Renaissance city ravaged by the plague. A group of disparate characters, disregarding the loss of one of their friends and stern admonitions from the local priest, attempt to overcome their fear of death by feasting in its honor. Most of the 31-minute one-act work is cast in continuous "melodic recitative" - a term coined by Cui to describe Dargomyzhsky's approach to text setting. Exceptions (that also have a precedent in The Stone Guest) are two set numbers prescribed in Pushkin's original play: a gentle ballad sung by a prostitute, Mary, who describes the devastation caused by the plague in her native village in Scotland, and "Hymn in Honor of the Plague," defiantly performed by the group's tortured "chairman," Walsingham. Both numbers predate the opera by about a decade: Cui borrowed their material from two of his earlier art songs. The musical style of the opera is eclectic: Dargomyzhskian recitative alternates on the one hand with lyrical melodies in a Tchaikovskian vein, and on the other with impressionistic passages reminiscent of Rachmaninov's writing. The quality of the music is equally uneven: some sections are forgettable, while others are well worth repeated hearing. Polyansky's recording is of good quality; Andrei Baturkin as Walsingham and Ludmila Kuznetsova as Mary are particularly attractive. The recording also features a selection of Cui's art songs, and his Three Scherzos for orchestra. Overall, this new release will make a worthy addition to any Russian music collection.

Sergei Rachmaninov, known to us today primarily for his piano and orchestral scores, started his compositional career with a one-act opera Aleko (1892), which received Tchaikovsky's blessing and premiered as a double bill with the older master's Iolanta. Two more one-act operas would follow: The Miserly Knight and Francesca da Rimini; premiered together as a double bill in 1906, under the composer's baton. The plot of The Miserly Knight, adapted by Pushkin from a tragicomedy The Covetous Knight by an English poet William Shenstone (1714-63), is set in a medieval castle whose owner, the Baron, is consumed by greed that ruins his son Albert and ultimately leads to his own demise. Unlike that of Cui, Rachmaninov's inspiration for setting Pushkin's "little tragedy" did not come from The Stone Guest, but rather from the second work in this unusual operatic "cycle," Mozart and Salieri. Rimsky-Korsakov's opera premiered in December 1898 at the Moscow Private Opera, with the company's star, Feodor Chaliapin as Salieri. A year earlier, Rachmaninov had been engaged as a conductor and pianist at that company; there he befriended Chaliapin, and helped the singer prepare the part of Salieri. The dramatic power of Chaliapin's presentation was foremost in the composer's mind while creating the role of the old Baron in The Miserly Knight; this is especially clear in his gripping monologue in Scene 2 of the opera in which the Baron admires the treasures in his cellar. Interestingly, Chaliapin refused to sing the premiere of Rachmaninov's opera, although he would later perform the Baron's monologue in concert on numerous occasions. The singer's initial reaction elucidates Rachmaninov's approach to text setting that differed substantially from that of his three predecessors. Dargomyzhsky, Cui, and (to a lesser extent) Rimsky-Korsakov had all placed the primary emphasis on the direct setting of Pushkin's verses in vocal declamation, while keeping instrumental accompaniment simple and subservient to the voice. Rachmaninov, for his part, created essentially a sweeping symphonic tableau. Despite the undeniable power of his naturalistic text declamation, the chief musical interest of the opera remains in the continuously developing orchestral fabric. As such, The Miserly Knight represents one of the very few Russian operas in the tradition of Wagner's Ring, as well as Rachmaninov's finest achievement in the operatic genre.

As for Polyansky's recording, Mikhail Guzhov demonstrates an enviable mastery of the Baron's fiendishly difficult part; Vsevolod Grivnov as Albert, and Andrei Baturkin as the Duke do well in their supporting roles. The orchestra, however, does not always rise to the challenges of Rachmaninov's virtuoso score, which detracts somewhat from the pleasure of listening to this forgotten masterpiece. In summary, Rachmaninov's The Miserly Knight is a must for any operatic collection, but the reader might perhaps investigate the 2004 Deutsche Grammophon recording of this work, conducted by Neeme Järvi.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri at Columbia

Posted by Gary at 6:32 PM

DONIZETTI: L’elisir D’amore

Gaetano Donizetti: L'elisir D'amore

Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro de Bellas Artes, Jose Arean, conductor
Premiere Opera DVD 5060

Of today's opera stars, tenor Rolando Villazón may be the "hottest" (if readers will allow that Entertainment Tonight term). He has gone from being an Operalia winner a few years back to assuming leading roles in the major houses of Europe and the U.S. His second major label recital disc has just been released to even higher praise than his first received, which appeared on many "best of the year lists" for 2004. Wherever he appears, major profiles and interviews appear in the local papers. He's so hot he may be contributing to global warming.

As of early 2005, however, fans of opera on DVD have nothing from the major outlets that allows them to view the Villazón phenomenon as well as hear it. Ah, but Premiere Opera comes to the rescue: a 2001 performance, apparently televised, from Mexico of Donizetti's beloved comic masterpiece L'elisir D'amore, featuring one of the very greatest tenor arias, "Una furtiva lagrima." True devotees of great contemporary singing will want this document of Villazón at the start of his career, despite the variable video quality (probably not reproduced from an original source).

The occasional darkness of the picture makes evaluating the physical production problematic. From what can be discerned, painted backdrops constitute most of the sets. Props are few. A huge metal contraption brews up Dulcamara's potion, and a long table appears for the festival scene. A painted drop descends for some scenes played at the lip of the stage while modest set changes occur behind. Costumes are vaguely Tyrolean, with Villazón's rustic wear so impeccably pressed and clean that he might well be suspected of never actually getting down to working. But he's so busy moping over Adina, the fields will just have to wait.

Although what can be seen of the sets may not impress, the singers are up front most of the time, and the picture captures them very well. And that's important with Villazón, a born stage performer whose gestures, expressions, and sheer enthusiasm draw the viewer's eyes. His Nemorino manages to be goofy enough that Adina's initial rejection doesn't turn the audience away from her, and yet endearing enough that her eventual capitulation is heartwarmingly inevitable.

Most importantly, his fresh tenor fits this role perfectly. He has no fear of the high notes, and the warm, velvety texture of his middle range never fails to please. He does a creditable job with some of the faster runs in Donizetti's bel canto writing, but the highlight is the "Una Furtiva lagrima." which the besotted Mexican audience insists be encored. Yes, painted backdrops and a bis for the big tenor aria: it's that kind of gloriously old-fashioned performance. And from 2001!

And Villazón is not the only singer of interest. In a NYCO broadcast of Boheme a few years back, Villazón's Rodolfo horsed around with the Marcello of Alfredo Daza. Daza is the Belcore here, and though his vocal instrument doesn't have the charisma of Villazón's, his is a characterful baritone, and he is nearly as good an actor. It's easy to ham up the role of the ludicrously self-loving Belcore, and Daza manages to bring comic flair to the role without becoming annoying. His curtain call in character is cherishable.

Mikhail Svetlov Krutikov's Dulcamara appears in vaguely Arabian genie costume, the exotic flavor complemented by his Russian accent. He's entertaining, as is Ana Luis Mendez in the small role of Gianetta.

Which leaves the Adina, Eugenia Garza Prieto. Some may well find her as pleasing and attractive as an Adina should be - Kathleen Battle seemed perfect for the role in a Met broadcast with Pavarotti of some years back. For this viewer, Prieto is satisfactory is the faster music, but anything slower highlights a shrill quality, especially up top. And with Villazón on stage, her basic lack of charm really hinders her attempts to bring the character to life.

Jose Arean leads the orchestra in a lively, well-detailed performance (the audio is very good). The violinists' bows, by the way, can briefly be seen tapping their music stands at the beginning of the ovation for the first of Villazón's "Furtiva" renditions.

As what may be a special bonus for some viewers, Premiere Opera has included a weird animated sequence in the intermission, apparently for the broadcast channel, in which some almost nude Aztec warriors in clay models do some military exercises. PBS might pick up some more viewers with such imaginative intermission programming.

As a final reminder, if the reader insists on a perfect picture, this DVD will not please. Once or twice the picture froze or skipped on your reviewer's DVD player. Thin blurry streaks cross the screen. Near the end, for a few seconds the warning "AUTO PICTURE" flashes across the screen. Some may also regret the lack of English subtitles (Spanish ones on the screen cannot be removed). With an opera such as Elisir, however, surely a basic familiarity with the story will suffice.

For the growing number of Villazón fans, however, this DVD may be indispensable, if for nothing more than those ten minutes when Villazón comes to the front of the stage to sing "Una furtive lagrima" twice. The place goes nuts, and the look on Villazón's face is priceless. No flaws in the video can interfere with the perfection of a great opera moment such as that.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 6:31 PM

February 12, 2005

Public Radio's Flagship Runs Aground

WETA Board Approves Switch To News-Talk Format

By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2005; Page C01

WETA-FM listeners who had hoped to prevent the widely anticipated decision by the public broadcasting station's board of directors to drop classical music programs left its Shirlington offices disappointed last night. By an overwhelming majority, the board approved a resolution to focus on news and public-affairs programming.

After the vote, the station immediately annouced the new lineup, with round-the-clock news, analysis and interview programs, that will debut Feb. 28. Only the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera and "Traditions With Mary Cliff," the Saturday night folk music program, will remain for music lovers at 90.9 FM. Currently the station broadcasts 15 hours of classical music on a typical weekday.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:46 PM

Welsh National Opera Moves to Millennium Centre

Lyric Theatre at Millenium Centre, Cardiff

Prelude to great things

[Daily Telegraph, 12 Feb 05]

Its move to the magnificent Millennium Centre may give Welsh National Opera the boost it needs, says Rupert Christiansen

This is Welsh National Opera's big chance. Fifty-nine years after its birth, as the brilliant artistic reputation that it enjoyed in the 1980s falters along with attendances, the company has moved into a new home in the Wales Millennium Centre, a vast cultural emporium at the heart of the redeveloped Cardiff Bay.

A boost in morale is needed. WNO has endured a number of setbacks in recent seasons: several flops, the unpopular organisational overhaul and the "sudden departure" last summer of the inexperienced young music director Tugan Sokhiev among them. Is the long-serving general director Anthony Freud thinking of moving on (he was shortlisted last year for the top job at New York's Metropolitan Opera)? Can the magnificent facilities of the WMC restore the company's fortunes?

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:37 PM

Deborah Polaski in Vienna

Kritik Oper: Lautstarker Liebestod

[Die Presse, 11 Feb 05]

Deborah Polaski debütierte als Isolde an der Staatsoper.

Gross war das Interesse für Deborah Polaskis erste Wiener Isolde. Und rasch machte sie klar, wie sie diese Rolle versteht: als kraftvoll gesteigerte Euphorie. Da hatte sie in Peter Schneider am Pult des gut disponierten, mit fabelhaften Soli bei Streichern und Bläsern aufwartenden Staatsopernorchesters einen gleich gestimmten Partner. Denn auch er setzte auf kräftige Farben, heizte die Dynamik und die Emotion der Sänger an, ohne dabei auf die lyrischen Stellen der Partitur zu vergessen, auch wenn man diese schon feinnerviger modelliert in Erinnerung hat. Dennoch, zu einem spannenden Ganzen wollten sich die einzelnen, noch so intensiv musizierten Mosaiksteine nur schwer fügen.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 11:38 AM

February 11, 2005

LULLY: Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Les Fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus
Robert Cambert : Pomone

Hugo Reyne, La Simphonie du Marais
Accord 476 2437 [2 CDs]

Born in Florence, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) came to France in 1646 as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV's cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans. Thanks to her, Lully became acquainted with French music, and got to study with several eminent musicians in Paris. In early 1653, he was asked to play several roles in the spectacular Royal Ballet of the Night. His performances caught the eye of King Louis XIV, who immediately appointed the young musician to the post of "Instrumental Music Composer." Soon, Lully became Louis XIV's favorite musician — he was appointed to the post of "Master of Music of the Royal Family" in 1662 — and the most important composer in France. Today, Lully is known primarily as the first major composer of French opera. (Unfortunately, he is also remembered for the way he died. In January 1687, Lully stabbed his foot with a cane that he used to beat time, and he succumbed to infections that resulted from this injury.)

Over the past seven years, Hugo Reyne and La Simphonie du Marais have been recording Lully's works for Accord, a highly-regarded classical music label in France. This review considers the sixth installment in this series, and it contains premiere recordings of two of the earliest works in the history of French opera. The earlier composition is Pomone by librettist Pierre Perrin (1630-75) and composer Robert Cambert (c. 1628-77). In this five-act opera, Vertumne, the god of autumn, tries to woo Pomone, the goddess of fruits, by disguising himself as Pluto, Bacchus, and Pomone's nurse Beroe. In the end, Vertumne wins Pomone's hand and the work concludes with their wedding. The opera opened to critical acclaim in March 1671, and ran for 146 performances over a period of about seven months. Despite this initial success, the sole remaining source of Pomone contains only the first forty pages of the opera. It cuts off in the middle of the second act.

This release was recorded live in November 2003, and it contains every note of the extant score, which is just over half an hour of music. Throughout, La Simphonie du Marais offers subtly inflected and energetic playing. Outside of occasional ensemble and intonation problems, the singers, especially countertenor Renaud Tripathi, make fine contributions. My main reservations have to do with the work itself. Cambert's music is certainly fluent and pleasant, but it does not contain much variety or character. Having read about this piece in various articles over the years, I am glad that I now have the opportunity to hear it. That said, I don't think I will be returning to it very often.

The second work on this two-CD set is Lully's Les fetes de l'Amour et de Bacchus (The Festivities of Cupid and Bacchus). A pastiche opera in three acts, this work — which consists largely of music from Lully's comedies-ballets — was hastily compiled by Lully and his librettist Philippe Quinault (1635-88) shortly after the composer acquired a royal monopoly to form the Académie Royale de Musique in 1672. Featuring an unusually large cast that includes 15 singing roles, two choruses, two instrumental ensembles, 32 dancing characters, and 11 supernatural characters, Les fetes is at once a celebration of Louis XIV's reign and of idyllic love. Full of elaborate sets, spectacular stage effects and elegant dance sequences, this opera was not only an enormous success during its opening run, but was also revived five times between 1689 and 1738.

This is a highly recommended recording. All the performers execute French Baroque music and its ornamentations with ease and conviction. Françoise Masset and Isabelle Desrochers are especially convincing; they possess fine voices, and sing with energy and intelligence in their multiple roles. La Simphonie du Marais plays with great finesse, flexibility and color (listen to the wonderful effects in the Airs of the Magicians in Act 2). At the same time, Lully's music is always inventive, varied, and full of character. My one quibble is the chorus, which is peculiarly balanced on several occasions. Given the otherwise excellent quality of this recording, one might have to conclude that this was the inevitable result of recording a staged performance. Given the historical importance of these two works, one has to wonder why they were not released on DVD.

Eric Hung
Westminster Choir College of Rider University

Posted by Gary at 9:05 PM

A Critical Edition of Faust at Frankfurt

Faust, Frankfurt Opera

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 11 Feb 05]

Gounod's Faust is often billed in Germany as Margarethe. The frivolous Frenchman's melodies should not be confused with Goethe's masterpiece. That would be blasphemy.

Frankfurt Opera, not a house given to frivolity, has chosen a new critical edition of Faust. Minus the usual cuts, plus intervals, the evening lasts four hours. Add Johannes Debus on the podium, drawing plump, earthy sounds from the orchestra, and you start to hear Gounod with an earnestly German accent.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 9:04 PM

Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress at the Mariinsky

Peter the Great

By Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 11 Feb 05]

A scene from the Mariinsky Theater's production of Tchaikovsky's opera The Enchantress. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, arguably Russia's most popular composer, is being celebrated with a festival of his work at the Mariinsky Theater. The event, which kicks off Saturday with David Poutney's production of "The Enchantress," runs through Feb. 20 and features over two dozen performances of Tchaikovsky's operas, ballets and chamber music.

The Mariinsky's artistic director, Valery Gergiev makes just one appearance during the festival, to conduct "The Enchantress" on the opening night.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:56 PM

Early Opera in Seattle

Early Music Guild looks to the dawn of English opera

Friday, February 11, 2005


The Early Music Guild, an indispensable part of Seattle's period-music scene for more than two decades, every once in a while steps back from presenting the best and the brightest musicians from around the world and produces extravaganzas of its own.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, in 1997, the guild presented a stellar reading of Handel's "Carmelite Vespers" at St. James Cathedral, with Andrew Parrott leading the large forces. More recently was a weekend of Monteverdi chamber operas.

Over the next few days at the Falls Theatre at ACT, the guild is offering English opera at its beginning -- John Blow's "Venus and Adonis" -- and a companion piece, Henry Purcell's ode "Welcome to All the Pleasures." Both were composed circa 1683.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:52 PM

A Profile of Rolando Villazon

Voice of charisma

Chris Kraul
[Hong Kong Weekend Standard, 12-13 Feb 05]

Rolando Villazon has the opera world on a string. The young Mexican tenor has just completed a fairy tale year, with acclaimed debuts at New York's Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden in London and the Staatsoper in Berlin. He released his first CD, a collection of Italian arias; several critics ranked it among the best classical recordings of 2004. And his face graced the covers of a number of opera periodicals.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:40 PM

A New Opera Company Formed in Upstate New York

Area opera forces merge, promise 2005-06 season

John Pitcher [Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 11 Feb 05]

Three local opera groups announced Friday that they have merged to form a major new company, called Mercury Opera Rochester, which will launch its inaugural season in the fall of 2005.

For its first season, the company plans to stage three original (and yet to be specified) productions -- two smaller, community-style operas in the fall of 2005 and spring of 2006 at venues to be determined later, and a grand operatic performance at the Eastman Theatre in January 2006 that would feature, among other things, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra serving as pit orchestra.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:31 PM

Cleveland Opera's New Season

Opera has grand plans for anniversary

Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11 Feb 05]

Singers both new and familiar to Cleveland will perform with Cleveland Opera during its 30th anniversary season starting in the fall.

The season is the first programmed entirely by general director Robert Chumbley.

Tenor Stuart Neill, who has sung at the Metropolitan Opera, London's Covent Garden and Milan's La Scala, will perform as Calaf in Puccini's "Turandot" with Cleveland Opera in spring 2006.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:23 PM

February 10, 2005

Ticket Prices Going Up At Wiener Staatsoper

Was kostet die (Opern-)Welt?

[Kurier.at, 9 Feb 05]

Unter vielen Abonnenten der Wiener Staatsoper herrscht Aufregung. Der Grund: Ein Schreiben des kaufmännischen Geschäftsführers Thomas Platzer, in dem teilweise empfindliche Preiserhöhungen angekündigt werden.

Die Staatsoper hat 11.900 Abonnenten, 40 Prozent davon sind von der neuen Preisstruktur ab 2005/06 betroffen. Aber auch für Käufer von Einzelkarten wird die neue Regelung gelten. Details dazu werden aber erst bei der Saisonpressekonferenz im April bekannt gegeben.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:08 PM

Il primo dolce affanno… The first sweet pain

Il primo dolce affanno... The first sweet pain

Elizabeth Vidal, soprano; Bruce Ford, tenor; Laura Claycomb, soprano; Manuela Custer, mezzo-soprano; William Matteuzzi, tenor; Roberto Servile, baritone; Alastair Miles, bass; David Harper, piano.
Opera Rara CD ORR230

True to the intent of its series, Il Salotto, Opera Rara offers in this seventh volume a delightful sampling of art songs from the mid- to late-nineteenth-century repertory. Performing them are sopranos Elisabeth Vidal and Laura Claycomb, mezzo Manuele Custer, tenors Bruce Ford and Willliam Matteuzzi, baritone Roberto Servile, and bass Alastair Miles, accompanied on piano by David Harper.

The obvious highlights of this recording are the three settings of Petrarch's sonnets by Franz Liszt. Originally sketched during his years in Italy, he revisited the pieces several times, leaving both vocal and solo piano versions. One is likely to hear Liszt the vocal composer in larger choral works, so these offerings add a refreshing new perspective for audiences. When performed in recital, the sonnets are generally done in order, but Patric Schmid, the producer and artistic director, explains that, because they are all in the same key, they were separated to avoid "the impression that one flows into another." While this is strange inasmuch as CD track technology generally provides a separation, they are nevertheless heard on tracks 1, 9, and 17, which listeners can play in order if they so desire.

Vidal sings exquisitely in all of her solo selections; among the most elegant are her interpretations of Saint-Saens' "Thème Varié" and "Pourquoi rester seulette." Inexplicable is her performance in the Meyerbeer duet "La Mère Grand" with Custer. It is as though Vidal simply could not hear her colleague. The result of what would otherwise be an enchanting duet is that, while Custer remains on key, Vidal's intonation is hit-or-miss. This problem does not occur in their duet of Ricci's "Mi vuo trasformar"; admittedly, there are far fewer vocal acrobatics in Vidal's melodic line. Unfortunately, the Meyerbeer duet is the weakest selection on the recording.

Although not for intonation woes, another troubling song is the Buzzolla barcarola, "Tace il vento." Paired with Ford and bass Miles, tenor Matteuzzi is positively outclassed. His voice is unsure and thin in contrast, affecting the overall balance and total effect of this charming song. This is unfortunate for one rarely hears Buzzolla, a man among those Verdi selected to represent contemporary Italian composers in the ill-fated Rossini requiem. Perhaps as a soloist Matteuzzi fares better; we get no chance to hear on this recording, however.

With a very different vocal color from Vidal, Laura Claycomb offers a splendid rendition of Józef Poniatowski's "Cantami, cantami," remarkable in its delicate tone and dynamic control. Equally compelling is her duet of the composer's "Le Rosier" with Ford. Servile offers a solid and powerful interpretation of Gomes' "Realtà," but in the end, the real stars of the recording are Ford, Custer and Claycomb. Throughout David Harper accompanies with precision and grace, always present but never intrusive. Especially noteworthy is his elegant accompaniment of Ford in the Petrarch settings.

A comment is necessary about Michael Quinn's liner notes. In his introduction to the Verdi mélodie "Prends pitié de sa jeunesse," he notes the suspicion that this song may actually have been an aria for Rigoletto's Maddalena. Patric Schmid discussed this issue in a 1978 article in the Verdi Newsletter. Bearing only the title "Mélodie" the range designation "Mezzo-Soprano," and Verdi's name, the number appeared in a mid-nineteenth century Escudier piano-vocal edition of selections from the opera. As Schmid explained, in reality, the piece is Verdi's song "Il poveretto" (1847) with a new French text. Other than his identification as the music's composer, however, there has been no proof that he himself intended this piece for the opera. Absence of any mention of it in the Verdi Critical Works edition of Rigoletto places the song even deeper in the shadows. It would have been helpful to include the piece's full history or, at the very least, cite Schmid's article for those who wished to locate the music.

Questionable are comments on Meyerbeer (see the notes for "Le ricordanze."). Quinn suggests that the composer's "late entry" into the Salotto series is justified; "how out of place and possibly vulgar might his penchant for what Wagner decried as 'a wearisome heaviness' [...] have seemed in the discrete confines of the drawing room. Yet," he continues, "how welcome he should be made, for his is salon music of a distinctly superior and appealing kind." Given Wagner's unabashed anti-Semitic attacks on Meyerbeer, why bother to cite his evaluation for listeners? Quinn further suggests "Few would argue that Verdi has no place in a collection of songs about love." In truth, most would argue, especially those now writing on the Italian art song, that Verdi most certainly belongs there. He spent a lifetime composing about love, and, as this fine recording demonstrates, the line between art song and aria is a very fine one indeed.

Denise Gallo

Posted by Gary at 8:11 PM

St. Olaf Choir at Carnegie Hall

A Midwestern Choral Group to Whom the Words Matter

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 10 Feb 05]

The singers marched on stage with near-military precision, the hem of each purple choir robe at the same distance from the ground. When they opened their mouths to sing, an even wall of sound emerged: words clear, notes true. But more than that, the notes were felt. As the music moved through the rows of singers, their bodies swayed like a field of long grass in the wind.

The St. Olaf Choir, a group of Lutheran college students from the Midwest, has been touring since 1912, and as it showed in a half-empty Carnegie Hall on Super Bowl Sunday, it is very good.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 7:59 PM

BUSNOIS: Missa O Crux lignum, Motets, Chansons

Antoine Busnois: Missa O Crux lignum, Motets, Chansons
Orlando Consort
harmonia mundi — HMU 907333

The most recent recording by England's premier performers of Renaissance vocal music, the Orlando Consort, features a selection of works by the renowned fifteenth-century composer Antoine Busnois, works that represent the major genres of music composition of the time -- mass, motet, and chanson. The performances are what we have come to expect from the fine singers of the Orlando Consort: warm, vibrant, and precise.

A relatively few facts are known about Busnois' biography. Because he was famous enough during his lifetime for the date to have been recorded, we know when he died: November 6, 1492. The circumstances of his birth are less certain; he was probably born around the year 1430, in or near the small town of Busne (hence, "Busnois") in north-eastern France. From pay records -- and from the text of his famous motet In hydraulis -- we know that Busnois was a musician in the court of Charles the Bold. Busnois' reputation as a composer among his contemporaries was exceeded only by that of Ockeghem, with whom Busnois may have studied. Contemporary composers and poets honored Busnois by including his name in a number of texts and poems, among which is Loyset Compère's motet Omnium bonorum plena, in which Busnois is praised as one of the "masters of song."

Indeed it is Busnois' songs that are probably his most original works, despite their adherence to the poetic formes fixes that were cultivated widely during the fifteenth century: rondeau, bergerette, and ballade. Each type of poem features strict patterns of rhyme and syllabic structure that are reflected musically in the alternation and repetition of two principal sections of music. The songs presented by the Orlando Consort represent all three of the major formes fixes and display the subtleness of Busnois' melodies and the perfection of his counterpoint. Among the chansons included on the recording is a bergerette whose text reveals something about Busnois' personal life: Ja que li ne s'i attende. This is one of four songs by Busnois whose texts refer directly to Jacqueline d'Hacqueville, the wife of a Parisian councilor, with whom Busnois apparently had a romantic dalliance. In the case of Ja que li ne s'i attende, the first four words of the first line of text (Ja que li ne) together make up the first name of Busnois' beloved.

The centerpiece of the recording is Busnois' Missa O Crux lignum, one of only two masses that can be securely attributed to the composer. Busnois' setting of the five major items of the Catholic mass Ordinary -- Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus (with a separate track for the Benedictus section), and Agnus -- is constructed as a typical cantus firmus mass of the time: The melody of the hymn O Crux lignum is placed in the tenor voice in drawn-out notes, while the other voices weave polyphony around it. The polyphonic mass is truly the most elaborate musical form of the period, with a changing variety of meters, voice pairings, and tempo changes, which enliven the complex polyphonic interaction of the four voices. Busnois' mass stands out from its contemporaries in its subtle use of imitation to organize the strands of polyphony, and his frequent passages of parallel thirds and sixths to soften its severity.

The fine performances of the Orlando Consort bring to life Busnois' exquisite music, which has been underrepresented in recent recordings. The close blend of voices in the ensemble is well-suited to Busnois' complex and subtle pieces.

Deborah Kauffman
University of Northern Colorado

Posted by Gary at 6:33 PM

Stefanie Wüst Performs Monteverdi and Weill in Potsdam

Monteverdi und Kollege Weill

Die Sopranistin Stefanie Wüst singt ab morgen in zwei Musiktheaterproduktionen des Hans Otto Theaters in Sanssouci


Die bedeutenden Komponisten der Musikliteratur, Claudio Monteverdi und Kurt Weill, suchten sich als literarische ,Partner" Grössen der Weltliteratur, un- ter anderen Torquato Tasso und Bertolt Brecht. Und so ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass eine sensible Behandlung der Sprache bei beiden Komponisten in ihren Musiktheaterstücken oberste Priorität hat.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:14 PM

Dresden Celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the Reopening of the Semperoper

Auferstanden aus Ruinen

Semperoper vor 20 Jahren wiedereröffnet

Von Jörg Schurig [SZ-Online, 10 Feb 05]

Als am 13. Februar 1985 zur Wiedereröffnung der Semperoper die DDR-Nationalhymne erklang, mag die Zeile ,Auferstanden aus Ruinen" zumindest in den Gedanken vieler Zuschauer mitgeschwungen haben. Offiziell wurde der Text damals nicht mehr verwendet.

Dresden - Dabei hätte er ideal gepasst: 40 Jahre nach der Zerstörung des Bauwerkes von Gottfried Semper im Zweiten Weltkrieg bekam die Musikwelt eines ihrer schönsten Häuser wieder.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:36 PM

Amanda Roocroft in Frankfurt

Spannung im Hotel

Amanda Roocroft braucht Anlauf bei ihrem Liederabend

VON ANNETTE BECKER [Frankfurter Rundschau, 9 Feb 05]

Es gibt Termine, die sind für einen Liederabend in der Oper Frankfurt eher ungünstig. Dazu gehört der Fastnachtsdienstag. Zwar dürften sich die Zielgruppen einigermassen unterscheiden. Aber zartbesaitete Menschen trauen sich an den tollen Tagen kaum aus dem Haus. So war die Oper, die normalerweise mehr als tausend Personen fasst, beim Gastauftritt der britischen Sopranistin Amanda Roocroft mit Iain Burnside als Klavierbegleiter enttäuschend schwach besucht. Und möglicherweise lag es am Blick auf die vielen leer gebliebenen Plätze, dass Amanda Roocroft ihr Programm zunächst nicht übermässig engagiert anging und ihr Potential oft mehr durchscheinen liess als zeigte.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:17 PM

Der Rosenkavalier at Graz

Stephanie Houtzeel (Octavian), Wolfgang Bankl (Baron Ochs), Ann Petersen (Feldmarschallin)
Photo: Grazer Oper

"Rosenkavalier": Ein lerchenauisch Glück...

VON HARALD HASLMAYR [Die Presse, 8 Feb 05]

Die Neuproduktion des "Rosenkavalier" an der Grazer Oper geriet zu einem Erfolg auf allen Linien.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal bemerkte 1921, dass der "Rosenkavalier gar nichts sei, wenn nicht ein Dokument der österreichischen Wesensart". Dieses Diktum schien die Maxime der Grazer Neuproduktion gewesen zu sein. Marco Arturo Marelli, verantwortlich für Inszenierung, Bühne und Licht, ist überhaupt ganz offensichtlich ein genauer Kenner von Hofmannsthals Meisterlibretto. Den innersten Fasern und Nuancen des Textes folgend, gelang es ihm mittels eines riesigen, schräg über der Bühne platzierten Spiegels und einer hochsensiblen Lichtregie eine sinnlich-dichte Atmosphäre zu schaffen, eben genau jene spezifisch österreichische "Lebensluft", um die es Hofmannsthal zeitlebens so intensiv zu tun war.

Virtuos auch das Spiel mit den Zeitebenen: Atmete der erste Akt noch die Rokokofarben Tiepolos, spielte der zweite bereits im Gründerzeitmilieu, während im letzten Bild herbstlich-melancholische Schnitzlerstimmung dominierte - der Spiegel konnte hier gleichzeitig als gebrochener wie auch als einer in elegantem Jugendstil gedeutet werden. Die genuine Milde der Figuren Hofmannsthals gegenüber der "Schwäche alles Zeitlichen" kam durch die sich kaum merklich, jedoch kontinuierlich drehende Bühne subtil zum Ausdruck.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:44 PM

Don Giovanni at Toulouse Disappoints Le Monde

Dans une foret glacée, un "Don Giovanni" entre baroque et romantisme

A Toulouse, une mise en scène originale gâchée par une direction sans finesse.

Toulouse de notre envoyée spéciale [Le Monde, 10 Feb 05]

Une vague forme humaine étendue dans la pénombre - gisant, dormant ? C'est Leporello. A coté, le fameux livre de comptes de Don Giovanni - mille et deux conquetes. Quelque part, la mille troisième est en train de se faire "inscrire" : Donna Elvira. La voilà d'ailleurs qui surgit, hors d'haleine, tâchant de démasquer son violeur.

Entre reve et réalité, monde intérieur et espace externe, Brigitte Jacques-Wajeman, qui signe là sa première mise en scène d'un opéra du répertoire, a choisi de confronter le désir vital à l'inconscient mortifère (les mortes eaux de décors en noir et blanc).

Les décors et costumes d'Emmanuel Peduzzi, les lumières latérales de Jean Kalman sont beaux : espaces nus et sophistiqués à la Giorgio Strehler, foret de grands chenes dont les futs pour l'affut se perdent dans les vertes frondaisons des cintres. Un monde entre baroque (des scènes de groupe à la Watteau, les deux orchestres viennois sur scène) et romantisme (les grands ciels à la Turner dévorant le fond) qui emprunte au symbolisme son apparente froideur.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:30 PM

Revamping Opera Australia

Singing for their supper

Katrina Strickland [The Australian, 10 Feb 05]
February 10, 2005

A PROGRESS report on the state of the Victorian Government's opera review made one thing clear this week: any new company will look nothing like the one that died in 1996.

Victorian Arts Minister Mary Delahunty called interested parties to a meeting on Tuesday to brief them on the findings of a review of opera activities in the state, undertaken by strategic consulting firm LEK Consulting.

The review, which began late last year, was designed to address concerns about a decline in the amount of opera staged in the state, and in work opportunities for local artists, since the 1996 merger of Victoria State Opera and the Australian Opera to form Opera Australia.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:07 AM

Turnover at Chicago

Lyric's rotating `Tosca' cast a study in sharp contrasts

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 8 Feb 05]

The Lyric Opera has effectively installed a turnstile backstage at the Civic Opera House to facilitate the comings and goings of the singers taking the principal roles of Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi in its revival of the historic Franco Zeffirelli production.

The weekend brought a sharply contrasted pair of performers in those roles, the American soprano Aprile Millo as the eponymous heroine and the Italian-Uruguayan tenor Carlo Ventre making his Lyric debut as her lover. To make matters more confusing, each was paired with a different singer, Millo with tenor Neil Shicoff, Ventre with soprano Doina Dimitriu. Pursuing all of them, but for very different reasons, was bass Samuel Ramey as the nefarious Baron Scarpia.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:41 AM

Reviving Mendelssohn's Revival

St Matthew Passion, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 9 Feb 05]

On March 11 1829 a marker was set down in musical history, when the 20-year-old Mendelssohn realised an ambition to give the first performance in "modern" times of Bach's St Matthew Passion - a scheme dismissed by his elders as the fantasy of a couple of "snotty-nosed brats".

There have been times when Roger Norrington has upset the traditionalists, too. Throughout the 1980s his "Experience" weekends regularly overturned received wisdom about how the great musical works of the past should be performed. It was fitting that he should follow in Mendelssohn's footsteps by reviving in turn his version of the St Matthew Passion in a rare re-creation of that 1829 Berlin performance.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 3:13 AM

February 9, 2005

Das Opernglas Interviews Anja Harteros

Foto: Tordik


Als deutsche Sängerin im italienischen Fach Fuss fassen - Anja Harteros gelingt, was heute eher eine Seltenheit ist. Söhnke Martens sprach mit ihr in Hamburg. Ausschnitte aus dem Interview:

Sind Sie musikalisch durch Ihre Familie geprägt?
Nein, überhaupt nicht. In meiner Familie gibt es niemanden, der professionell Musik gemacht hat. Jedes Kind sollte das Hobby ausüben, das ihm Freude bereitete. Zuweilen tagte dann der Familienrat, und wir diskutierten eifrig über unsere Wünsche. Meine Mutter schlug mir das Geigenspiel vor, als ich 8 Jahre alt war. Ich war davon nicht besonders überzeugt. Erst ihre Bemerkung, dass dieses Instrument nicht jeder spielen könne, machte mich neugierig. Es hat mir auch wirklich Spass gemacht.

Click here for remainder of article and other items.

Posted by Gary at 3:21 AM

Il Gazzettino Interviews Claudio Scimone

"Il segreto dei Solisti? Dialogare col pubblico"
"Lo scopo della musica è che dopo aver sentito un concerto l

Posted by Gary at 3:05 AM

La Clemenza di Tito — Another View

La clemenza di Tito, Coliseum, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 8 Feb 05]

"Classy" is not a word we have come to associate with English National Opera in recent years. Populist, perhaps. Attention-seeking, certainly. But with Mozart's late opera seria, ENO returns to the old-fashioned virtues of ensemble, intelligibility, beauty, truth. They should be obvious, shouldn't they? But we rarely encounter them in harmony, as we do here in a production directed by David McVicar, conducted by Roland Böer and shared with the Royal Danish Opera.

I have long had a problem with La clemenza di Tito. Its formal design is stiff compared with earlier masterpieces; its music seems to typecast rather than colour the characters. In fact, as McVicar and Böer make clear, its virtues are masked in subtlety. This is an intimate drama of trust, betrayal, forgiveness - qualities that go to the heart of human relationships. Its music has a theatrical charge, a charge that is all the more potent for being corseted within classical lines.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 2:39 AM

This Summer at the Aspen Music Festival

Music festival gets personal

Summer season: An autobiographical theme

By Stewart Oksenhorn [Aspen Times, 7 Feb 05]

The Aspen Music Festival and School will delve into the music of autobiography in its 2005 summer season.

The season, under the theme of "Self-Portraits," will highlight composers who have told the stories of their lives in their music. Among the notable works falling under the theme are Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 and a semistaged performance of Strauss' comic opera "Intermezzo." Also to be presented are intensely personal works by Elgar, Mahler, Berg and Shostakovich.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for general information on the Aspen Music Festival.

Posted by Gary at 2:33 AM

As If You Were There

Are you ready to CoCo?

Michael Berkeley [The Guardian, 9 Feb 05]

When the newly refurbished Royal Opera House reopened in December 1999, the great and the good found themselves trapped in their seats for a great slab of unstaged Wagner in German, with no introduction and no escape. Tony Blair, who was seated just in front of me, was clearly finding it hard-going; but to get out, he would have had to clamber over most of the royal family who, given the chance, might have beaten him to the exit. The Wagner, all agreed, was an unfortunate choice.

In an effort to break the ice, I leaned over and pointed out the Wagner tubas to the PM. "He was a bit of a megalomaniac," I said, "and invented his own rules and instruments." Blair immediately perked up - there was a glint of recognition in his eye and he was clearly grateful for the helping hand.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

February 8, 2005

Glass's Akhnaten in Boston

The Boston Conservatory of Music gave two performances, each with a different cast, of Philip Glass's Akhnaten last week five years to the day after the work's Boston premiere by the Boston Lyric Opera in February 2000. Aside from the pleasure of being able to hear a big contemporary work again so soon, the two productions were so radically different from one another that a whole new perspective on Glass's work could be had.

Boston Conservatory (as differentiated from the New England Conservatory of Music--although the two do share some resources in NEC's opera productions) has specific theater and dance specialties. The opera department has recently been reorganized and is now under the directorship of the distinguished American baritone Sanford Sylvan, who also directed this production. The opera was presented in the Conservatory's problematic theater which is more of an auditorium with virtually no off-stage space, cramped seating and, at least on this occasion, totally inadequate ventilation. Nevertheless, both performances were sold out with waiting lists and a wholly mixed crowd, particularly as to age, reacted to the work and its highly effective performance with high enthusiasm.

Sylvan presented this highly ritualistic work as part oratorio, with the chorus standing on risers at the rear with their scores, a decision that did two things — emphasize the static nature of Egyptian religious practice and, I suspect, solve the problem of short rehearsal time. The priesthood, a major antagonistic force in Akhnaten, was treated in a manner Verdi would very much have approved — an implacable, vengeful and controlling obstacle to any deviation from the established norm. Akhnaten and his family life, by contrast, were depicted in a realistic style with great informality, much touching, affection and fun in game playing in the face of crushing hierarchical convention. The climactic scene in which the family is slaughtered by the priests became shocking in its inhuman violence and blatant prejudice.

Beatrice Jona Affron, who has conducted for Boston Lyric opera and been a cover conductor for the Boston Symphony, led the orchestra in an assured, richly colored performance of Glass's minimalist score. The young cast all performed well with an especially striking vocal performance by Matthew Truss a young African-American countertenor with a brilliant top voice. (Interestingly, the BLO performance lost its noted countertenor lead during rehearsals and a student countertenor from the New England Conservatory learned the role quickly and performed with great assurance--something very right is going on in our music schools here in Boston). Despite the heat and lack of leg room in the theater, the packed house gave the performers a huge reception at the end of an excellent performance.

I will make one final, possibly controversial, observation: The epidemic of obesity we are being warned of among our young people by health authorities was in full view on stage, among singers in their late teens to mid 20s. My standard is not the unhealthily dieted super model look, but at least six of the leading performers, both male and female, were between 40 and perhaps 130 pounds overweight, causing some of them real difficulty in executing simple stage movement. The problem was exacerbated by the costume designer's inability to fit individual singers (the opera had a different cast for each performance) as flatteringly as he might have liked.

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted by Gary at 7:30 PM

Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges in Toronto

Singers do justice to surreal opera

JOHN TERAUDS [Toronto Star, 7 Feb 05]

When you hear a stage prince sing, "Dear orange, we're finally alone together, just you and me," you know you're not listening to the usual grand-opera fare.

But, then again, Opera In Concert is not about presenting the Opera America Top 10 list.

Yesterday afternoon at the Jane Mallett Theatre, the organization delivered a worthy and memorable French version of Sergei Prokofiev's four-act comedy, The Love for Three Oranges.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:22 AM

David Daniels in Salt Lake

Countertenor wows Libby Gardner crowd

By Catherine R. Newton

The Salt Lake Tribune [7 Feb 05]

Even if you have heard a countertenor sing before - and judging from intermission chatter Saturday in Libby Gardner Hall, not many people have - you've never heard anyone sing like David Daniels.

Daniels, credited with helping revive interest in early operas as well as the countertenor voice, wowed the Libby Gardner crowd with his versatility, stage presence and genre-transcending musicianship. Mozart's Lieder, Fauré art songs, arias by Handel and Purcell, American folk songs and contemporary music: Daniels brought something distinctive and compelling to them all.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:21 AM

Christine Schäfer Leaves Lasting Memories in New York

Early Music Styles Vary, but the Values Are a Constant


In the early days of the early music movement, ensembles and artists competed with one another over who knew the most about performance styles of the Baroque and Classical eras. The authenticity sweepstakes still goes on. But such insight takes you only so far.

I'm sure the musicians of the renowned Freiburg Baroque Orchestra from Germany are as informed about early music performance practices as comparable ensembles. But what made their concert on Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall so gratifying was the vitality and imagination of their playing - qualities that transcend any era.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:59 AM

La Clemenza di Tito at ENO

La Clemenza di Tito

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 7 Feb 05]

Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito was written to celebrate the coronation of the Habsburg emperor Leopold II as king of Bohemia in 1791. The date, two years after the French Revolution, is significant. Depicting a botched attempt to assassinate the Roman Emperor Titus, and his subsequent refusal to execute the conspirators, the opera examines the implications of the idea of benevolent autocracy and draws the conclusion that enlightened government necessitates absolute solitude and emotional isolation.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:40 AM

Nina Stemme as Marguerite in Frankfurt am Main

Mit Wonne leiden und sterben

Nina Stemme gilt als Sopranistin der Stunde. Jetzt ist sie in Gounods "Faust" in Frankfurt am Main zu hören

von Manuel Brug [Die Welt, 8 Feb 05]

Ist so Wagners Isolde angezogen? Schwarzes Kleid, darüber blaue Kittelschürze. Bequemstiefel, Gummihandschuhe. Aber nein. Nina Stemme ist jetzt Marguerite in Gounods "Faust" in Frankfurt am Main. Ausgerechnet. Wagner hätte das nicht gefallen. Noch dazu ein Gretchen als verdruckste, sich an ihr Kruzifix-Kettchen klammernde Saaltochter in einem schmuddeligen Demenzpflegeheim.

Isolde, das wird wieder im Sommer sein. In Bayreuth. Wo Nina Stemme freilich bereits auf dem Grünen Hügel debütiert hat: 1994 als Freia im "Ring". Jetzt wird sie als irische Maid in Christoph Marthalers Inszenierung zurückkehren. Vielleicht sogar in Kittelschürze? Mal sehen, was der Kostümbildnerin Anna Viebrock so einfällt.

Click here for remainder of article.

Nachbarin, euern Tropf!

Attraktiv, lebhaft, als Sängeroper ernst genommen: Christoph Loys Inszenierung von Gounods "Faust" an der Oper Frankfurt

VON HANS-KLAUS JUNGHEINRICH [Frankfurter Rundschau, 7 Feb 05]

Lag es ihm in den Genen, dass er sich so gerne mit dem Allerheiligsten der Kunst vereinigte? Es gelang ihm, dem französischen Komponisten Charles Gounod, das Präludium C-Dur aus dem 1. Band des Wohltemperierten Klaviers von J.S.Bach mit einer so angenehmen Vokalise zu verzuckern, dass es als Ave Marie wunschkonzertnotorisch wurde. Mit ebensolcher Ungeniertheit verwandelte er Goethes Faust zu einer grossen französischen Oper, die im Pariser Palais Garnier seit 1869 als nationales Repräsentationsstück zelebriert wurde, während in jenen frühen Jahren Georges Bizets weitaus genialere Carmen mit magerem Zuspruch an der bescheidenen Opéra comique dümpelte. Griff Charles Gounod zu den Sternen oder griffen diese nach ihm herunter?

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

February 7, 2005

SF Chronicle Interviews David Gockley

Gockley named San Francisco Opera director

By Joshua Kosman, [San Francisco] Chronicle Music Critic
Monday, February 7, 2005

Editor's note: The San Francisco Opera has appointed David Gockley, longtime artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, to succeed Pamela Rosenberg. After 32 years in Houston, Gockley will succeed Rosenberg in January. On Sunday, he sat down for an exclusive interview with San Francisco Chronicle Music Critic Joshua Kosman.

- - -

David Gockley's vision for the San Francisco Opera is impressive in its sweep and simplicity: He wants to have it all.

Starry glitz and populist directness, old and new repertoire, traditional and non-traditional approaches to opera -- all of these and more figure into Gockley's plans for his term as the company's new general director, which begins in January 2006.

"What I want to do is to fill the theater and maximize the revenue and interest the donors and pursue the grand tradition of the San Francisco Opera, the tradition of international glamour and excitement and luminousness," he said recently.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:55 PM

Arabella at Bayerische Staatsoper

Den Kuss genossen
Ein Gewinn für die Staatsoper: Anja Harteros als Arabella
[Merkur Online, 6 Feb 05]

Beste Stimmung im Nationaltheater. Und das nicht nur, weil auf der Bühne jahreszeitlich korrekt der Fasching tobte. Nein, nicht die bunten Luftschlangen und närrischen Hütchen peppten den Abend auf, sondern die Sänger. Sie heizten mit ihrem Totaleinsatz die x-te Repertoirevorstellung von Richard Strauss' "Arabella" so an, dass das Abo-Publikum seine helle Freude hatte. Münchner Opernalltag, der im grossen Jubel endete.

Nachdem Renée Fleming in der Premiere der Inszenierung von Andreas Homoki ihre weiten, weichen Sopran- Leuchtbögen gespannt hatte, gab nun Anja Harteros der Arabella überzeugend Gestalt. Gottlob nicht durch eine Blondfrisur der Dreissigerjahre entstellt wie ihre Vor-Sängerin, sondern naturbelassen. Anja Harteros, dunkelhaarig, apart, gross und schlank, bewegt sich mit Anmut, so wie es sich für eine höhere, heiratsfähige Adelstochter gehört. Das Kapriziöse, ein wenig Schnippische würzt sie mit einem zart-herben Jungmädchen-Schmelz, der der Figur wunderbar steht und ihre Rückzugsmanöver wie ihre Träume vom "Richtigen" beglaubigt. Darstellerisch wie stimmlich. Denn Anja Harteros' wunderbar ebenmässig geführter, substanzreicher Sopran hebt schwerelos ab in die weiten Strauss'schen Aufschwünge, entfaltet in der Höhe "ungezuckerte" Leuchtkraft.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:13 PM


Mahler: Songs
Stephan Genz, baritone; Roger Vignoles, piano.
Hyperion CD A67392

While a number of fine recent recordings of Mahler's Lieder with orchestral accompaniment have been released in recent years, his songs are also of interest in the versions the composer made for voice and piano. In presenting the songs with piano accompaniment, Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles bring out details that can become apparent only in this setting. Genz is known for his fine recordings of Lieder, include the award-winning CD of Beethoven's Songs, as well as various recordings of Hugo Wolf's Lieder (all on Hyperion). In this recording of Mahler's music, he performs with Vignoles three complete sets of Lieder, that is, the cycles Lieder eines farhrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder, as well as the set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder and, further, seven selections of settings from Mahler's early publication of Lieder und Gesänge.

Genz's approach to Mahler's early songs, as with his other recordings of Lieder, demonstrates his sensitivity to the text through consistently excellent diction and sense of musical line. In the early song "Hans und Grete," the articulation of "Ringel, ringel Reih'n!" echoes the accompaniment before proceeding with the principal melodic line; likewise, his enunciation of the exclamation of "Juchhe!" is tastefully controlled and avoids caricature. Yet when the music demands a more extroverted sound, Genz shows a full and solid tone that rings memorably. His exuberant performance of the Wunderhorn setting "Scheiden und Meiden" (which Mahler adapted from "Drei Reiter am Thor") makes one wonder why other singers have not made as much of this fine song, as well as some of the others selected for this CD.

With the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Genz and Vignoles work together as if they were performing chamber music. The various emotions depicted in the songs emerge clearly from the performers' sensitivity to dynamic levels and phrasing. In fact, the ensemble that they create is essential to their engaging interpretation of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, which is intense because of the way the vocal line is handed off elegantly to the piano throughout the five songs of this cycle. Vignoles shapes his part as if he himself were singing, such that the lyricism of the first song "Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n" stems from the voice and piano working together. Some passages of "Nun seh' ich wohl" have a sense of rubato that underscores the text so that it conveys the poetry clearly, without lapsing into shapeless declamation. This stands in contrast to the steady rhythm Genz uses for "Wenn dein Mutterlein," which benefits from understatement. At the same time, "In diesem Wetter" is notable for the subtlety that makes this final song convincing, as Genz and Vignoles pace the climax of the song and with it, bring the entire cycle, to its poignant conclusion.

For those who know the music, the recordings of the Kindertotenlieder and the Fünf Rückert-Lieder contain nuances that are worth rehearing. "Um Mitternacht" is tellingly triumphant, and "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" is a notworthy interpretation of which must be one of Mahler's most familiar songs. In fact, the entirety of this recording bears consideration for the consistently fine interpretations of all the Lieder selected for the CD.

Roger Vignoles contributed some excellent notes to accompany the recording, and his insights into the Lieder are worth reading for their pithy insights into interpreting the songs with piano accompaniment. In addition, the full German texts of all the Lieder are provided, along with translations in English. Vignoles' notes are translated into both German and French.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Click here for recording details, an excerpt of the sleeve notes and an audio sample.

Posted by Gary at 1:16 AM

February 6, 2005

Handel's Julius Caesar in Denver

"Trouser role" in "Caesar" fits mezzo-soprano Blythe aims for convincing portrayal in Handel work

By Kyle MacMillan [Denver Post, 6 Feb 05]

Stephanie Blythe recalls exactly where she was 10 years ago when she fully grasped the power of great acting in opera.

Then an apprentice artist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the mezzo-soprano was standing offstage about 25 feet from famed tenor Placido Domingo as he sang a love duet in "Die Walküre" with soprano Deborah Voigt.

"He was right there," she said, "just looking at her with all this love in his heart, and I totally believed this man was 20 years old and in love for the first time."

Blythe will try to bring that same kind of convincing acting, not to mention one of today's most acclaimed operatic voices, to her debut Saturday in the title role of George Frideric Handel's "Julius Caesar."

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 10:12 PM

Carmen at Opera Australia

Bizet classic's feminist makeover

Iain Shedden [The Australian, 7 Feb 05]

IT would come as a shock to opera-goers if the cast of Carmen were suddenly to break into a chorus of Sisters are Doing it for Themselves.

They might be forgiving, however, once they heard the gospel-tinged tones of American mezzosoprano Andrea Baker, who sings the title role in the Opera Australia production that begins a six-week run under the baton of Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko at the Sydney Opera House tonight.

Certainly the song, thematically speaking, wouldn't be out of place in director Lindy Hume's interpretation of Bizet's opera, which brings a feminist slant to the powerful love story. And Baker, who sings the blues when she's not engaged in opera, would easily do justice to the Annie Lennox/ Aretha Franklin original.
Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 9:14 PM

Venus and Adonis at Seattle

Titian: Venus and Adonis (c. 1555 - 1560)

A little naughty music: Early Music Guild explores Restoration England

By Melinda Bargreen [Seattle Times, 6 Feb 05]

It may not have been the best of times or the worst of times, but it was certainly among the naughtiest of times.

Restoration England, which marked the end of Cromwell's Puritan regime with the accession of merry monarch Charles II, was an era that makes Paris Hilton seem like a convent girl and "Sex and the City" like a school picnic. In Charles II's reign, all the prohibitions of Cromwell's era were repealed; the theaters were reopened, low-cut lace replaced buttoned-up wool, and the royal motto was evidently "thou shalt party hearty."

A rarity of that era, John Blow's "Venus and Adonis," was premiered around 1683 before the king and his courtiers, with one of the king's many concubines portraying Venus. (That was Moll Davis, a well-known actress and singer dubbed "the most impertinent slut in the world" by Puritan chronicler John Evelyn.) The role of Cupid went to Lady Mary Tudor, the love child of Moll Davis by Charles II.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:57 PM

Roll Over Stockhausen

Classical music could even become the new rock'n'roll

After decades of modernist tyranny, composers want to be popular again

Martin Kettle [The Guardian, 1 Feb 05]

When did the music die? And why? It will be 30 years in August since the death of Dmitri Shostakovitch. Next year also marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Benjamin Britten. Aaron Copland, older than both of them, lived on until 1990 and Olivier Messiaen until 1992. But apart from these?

I can see them already. The protestations on behalf of the half-forgotten and semi-famous, the advocates of Henze and Berio, the followers of Tavener and Adès. Perhaps there will be a good word for Golijov or Gubaidulina, for Piazzola or Saariaho (enthusiasms I share). And maybe, even now, there remains someone who believes that Stockhausen should be mentioned in the same breath as Bach, the last of the true believers clinging to the shipwreck of modernism.

Whatever happened to the composers? Last Saturday, the BBC relayed a broadcast from New York of Puccini's Turandot, the opera featuring the most famous aria of them all, Nessun Dorma. Yet Turandot, left unfinished on the composer's death in 1924, is also the grand finale of Italian opera. For around three centuries, operas poured from the pens of Italian composers and found lasting places in the repertoire. After Turandot, there has not been one in 80 years of which that could be said.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:42 PM

Gruberova Performs Norma at the Wiener Staatsoper

Gruberova: Belcanto als Seelendrama

VON GERHARD KRAMER [Die Presse 7 Feb 05]

Für Edita Gruberova hat die Staatsoper eine konzertante Fassung von Vicenzo Bellinis "Norma" aufs Programm gesetzt.

Endlose Begeisterung, Blumen, Stan ding ovations dankten Edita Gruberova und ihren Mitstreitern für einen packenden Opernabend, der die szenische Aufbereitung keinen Augenblick vermissen liess. Gerne verzichtete man darauf, die zeitgebundene Schauerromantik der Druiden und ihrer Opferriten anno 50 v. Chr. leibhaftig vor sich zu sehen. Und mehr noch: Keine Regie-Eitelkeit lenkte von der puren Musik ab.

Denn gerade hier, in Bellinis Chef d'oeuvre (1831), spielt sich ja das Seelendrama der Titelheldin als sündige Priesterin, verlassene Geliebte und verzweifelte Mutter fast ausschliesslich im tragischen Aufschrei, den wildgezackten Fiorituren aber auch den verhaltenen Lyrismen der Singstimme ab. Dieser enormen Anforderung hat sich Gruberova vor kurzem erstmals gestellt. Und sie wird ihr - als Höhepunkt ihrer jahrzehntelangen Beschäftigung mit dem Belcanto - heute in hoher Vollkommenheit gerecht. Besonders faszinierend: Die enorme Spannweite zwischen der dramatischen Kraft der Ausbrüche und der gewohnten Meisterschaft im Ausspinnen zartester, berührendster Pianissimo-Phrasen auch des "messa di voce", des verhaltenen Ansetzens einzelner Töne und ihres An- und Abschwellens. Unverändert ist auch die lockere Brillanz der Koloraturen; woran es ein wenig mangelt, ist die Substanz in der Tiefe, die die Gruberova durch quasi "naturalistisches" Sprechen kaschiert. Insgesamt eine grosse Leistung, die an berühmten Vorbildern zu messen allzu billig wäre.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

February 5, 2005

Das Wachsfigurenkabinett at the Münchner Reaktorhalle

Verliebte Witwe
Hartmann-Opern in der Reaktorhalle

[Merkur Online 4 Feb 05]

Ein buntes Schaubudenprogramm, anmoderiert von zwei Damen in knackigen Kostümen, so präsentieren sich die fünf Kurzopern von Karl Amadeus Hartmanns "Das Wachsfigurenkabinett" in der Münchner Reaktorhalle (Regie: Stefan Spies). Der Inszenierung des ersten Stücks "Der Mann, der vom Tode auferstand" fehlt noch Witz und Schwung. Die Geschichte vom reichen Fabrikanten, der vor seinem Radiogerät einschläft und das Hörspiel von der Arbeiterrevolution für Wirklichkeit hält, leidet an den Schaufel schwingend auftretenden, plump marschierenden Arbeitern.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:03 AM

Phoenix Rising — The Reconstruction of the Wiener Staatsoper

"Aus Burg und Oper": Krönung und Thronbesteigung


Die brennende Staatsoper - und deren Wiederauferstehung: Berühmt-berüchtigte Bilder zur Zeitgeschichte.

Hier spielt das Burgtheater", tönte Raoul Aslan angesichts des unzer störten Etablissements Ronacher im April 1945. Die Delegation, angeführt vom damaligen Direktionsassistenten (und heutigen Josefstadt-Gesellschafter) Heinrich Kraus und Aslan als sprachgewaltigem Theaterdirektor, war nach dem verheerenden Bombenangriff vom 12. März 1945, bei dem nicht nur das Burgtheater, sondern auch die Staatsoper zerstört wurden, auf der Suche nach möglichen Spielstätten. Tatsächlich hob sich Ende April '45, als der Krieg noch gar nicht zu Ende war, mit Grillparzers "Sappho" erstmals im Ronacher der Vorhang. Für das Staatsopernensemble begann die Nachkriegszeit im Theater an der Wien. Die Stammhäuser konnten erst 1955 renoviert wieder ihrer Bestimmung übergeben werden. Kurz nach Abschluss des Staatsvertrags zelebrierte man sinnigerweise die Wieder-Eröffnung der Burg wieder mit Grillparzer: Die Wahl musste auf "König Ottokars Glück und Ende" fallen - mit dem legendären, umjubelten "Loblied auf österreich".

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Posted by Gary at 2:47 AM

SMART: Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera

Mary Ann Smart is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also a scholar investigating her topics through the lens of feminist gender study. There is no indication in the book that she is or has ever been a performing artist or director, a situation I will return to later. The time line she lays out as her area of interest stretches from the development of Auber and Scribe's La Muette de Portici, commonly held to be the very first French Grand Opera, to the later works of Wagner and Verdi — several of which, not so coincidentally perhaps, were influenced by the concerns of Grand Opera — in other words, the bulk of the nineteenth century. Although Smart does not articulate this in so many words, this century saw the union in stage performance of the gesture- and pose-based system of acting in general use since at least the eighteenth century (if not several centuries earlier when indoor theater developed in Europe) with the Romantic compositional style wherein music described in detail the emotions of the character and suggested the gait, posture, gesture and physical relationship of the character to other characters on stage. By the end of Verdi and Wagner's careers (and largely because of Wagner), she sees music as having abandoned mimetic description in favor of psychological character exploration, although I think a good case can be made for Strauss's "big three," Salome (1905), Elektra (1909), and Rosenkavalier (1911) as being filled with quite specific musical depiction of movement and gesture.

Smart begins with Auber's Muette for two happily coincidental reasons: that it is the first Grand Opera and therefore not involved with stylized mythological or heroic characters, and that its voiceless heroine Fenella has no means of expression other than mime to musical accompaniment. Her description of the creative process, and particularly of the drastic cuts taken in Fenella's lengthy mime sequences before the premiere (when the language of mime as it existed in 1828 proved inadequate to express abstract concepts) is fascinating. But it is here that the first red flag goes up concerning Ms Smart's scholarship: in two separate places she states definitively that Fenella is the ONLY such character in opera, having obviously never heard of the title character in Rimsky-Korsakov's Mlada (a spectral mute portrayed by a dancer); of Toby in Menotti's The Medium, the mute assistant to Mme Flora whose entire role is mimed; or of the many, many mute characters in the one act Intermezzi of the 18th century like Pergolesi's La Serva Padrona, where the convention was to have one male singer, one female singer and one mime as the entire cast; or of the magnificent episode in Les Troyens when the widowed Andromache and her young son come before the Trojan populace in a wholly mimed scene whose music clearly describes their demeanor and movement.

One problem seems to me that Smart isn't an experienced theatrical practitioner. In her chapter on Bellini,, et al., she backs off the topic of expression by physical gesture to a discussion of expression through non-verbal but still vocal means: sighs, moans, groans and sobs as supported by onomatopoeic orchestral writing. Such blatant imitation was disparaged as simplistic and inartistic by contemporary commentators and Smart the theorist has difficulty acknowledging that the overwhelmingly effective nature of Bellini's or Verdi's sighs and tears is precisely because of the orchestra's faithful imitation of non-verbal human emotional utterance. No experienced singer, conductor or director would have any problem here and one begins to question the value of Smart's interlude in the orchestra pit and away from the stage.

Smart gets back on track when discussing the fully mature Verdi's use of musical/gestural climaxes for closed numbers so as to end them in a definitive way that precludes the formulaic cabalettas he had come to dread. She is most involved with Violetta (a woman of ambiguous social status fighting a body failing due to disease), Amelia (Ballo in Maschera, a woman fighting to control her body's adulterous erotic urges), Elizabeth and Carlos (Don Carlos, same situation as Amelia complicated by Carlos's neurotic physicality), and Aida (a woman of high rank captive in an alien world and forced into the pose of a slave).

It is in the climactic chapter on Wagner that Ms Smart scores most effectively, linking the composer's turn from "outer drama" to "inner drama" with the transformation of operatic music from describing action and movement, to a rhapsodic evocation of mood and erotic longing. Yet even here, she neglects the one great mimed episode in Tannhauser that that would not only nail her thesis conclusively but would also involve her gender study in perfect combination. It occurs just after Elisabeth has finished her prayer by the roadside shrine in act 3:

bq. She remains for some time in devout rapture. As she slowly rises, she sees Wolfram who approaches to speak to her. She entreats him by a gesture not to do so. [Wolfram: "Elizabeth, may I not walk beside you?"] Elizabeth again expresses to him by gesture that she thanks him for his faithful love, but that her way leads to heaven where she has a high purpose to fulfill; he must therefore let her depart alone and not follow her. She ascends halfway up the height and disappears gradually on the footpath toward the Wartburg.

[translation by Rodney Bloomer, copyright 1988 for the English National Opera]

It is one of the most demanding moments for an actress in Wagner, the music expressing the "rapture" of the moment while the soprano has exactly the kind of abstract concepts to convey that were the cause of such difficulty to Auber and Scribe. And as she is on her way, in effect, to give her life in exchange for the salvation of Tannhauser's soul, the purpose of Woman in Romantic opera, a major issue in gender study in opera, was there just waiting for Smart to dig in.

The book is well illustrated with musical examples integrated into the text rather than relegated to an appendix (and the notes, stretching to almost fifty pages, are both interesting and well composed), but is surprisingly short on visual examples of the very poses and gestures that are supposed to be the heart of the study. In particular, Smart has never heard of — or has chosen to ignore — Francois Delsarte (1811-1871), whose acting system dominated the stage in the nineteenth century. An externally applied repertory of what we would now consider melodramatic claptrap, the Delsarte System generated charts of hand movements and gestures, as well as sets of photographs employing contemporary actors demonstrating each pose that could have been a valuable resource here. When I mentioned this omission to a director and acting teacher whose career spans the U.S. and The Royal; Shakespeare Company (where they know a thing or three about externally applied acting technique) she was amazed that anyone writing on the subject would not include Delsarte.

"Mimomania" (a term used by Nietzsche in connection with Wagner) is an interesting but flawed, occasionally unfocused look at the emotional power of Romantic music in conjunction with a vanished acting style that worked with it hand in glove. It is a fascinating topic if only because Romantic opera remains the core repertory of most opera houses. This subject still awaits a satisfying major study.

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

image_description=Mary Ann Smart: Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera

product_title=Mary Ann Smart: Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera
product_by=Berkeley: University of California Press, 247 pp., 2004
product_id=ISBN 0-520-23995-4

Posted by Gary at 2:31 AM

Star Cross'd Lovers In LA

Anna NetrebkoRolando Villazón
 Photo: © Mark Kessel 2004

Roméo et Juliette, Music Center, Los Angeles

By Allan Ulrich [Financial Times]
Published: February 2 2005 02:00 | Last updated: February 2 2005 02:00

Stale marzipan it may be, but given the appropriate set of protagonists, Charles Gounod's ponderous 1867 adaptation of Shakespeare's youthful tragedy still has the power to arouse the senses and engage, if not engulf, the soul. In Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko, the Los Angeles Opera has found doomed lovers who are as much star material as "star cross'd". Whatever else is lacking in the first west coast production of the opera here in 18 years, the Mexican tenor and Russian soprano radiate youthful ardour, stylistic sophistication and sheer theatrical magic.

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Verona in Waltz Time

by ALAN RICH [LA Weekly February 4 - 10, 2005]


If there must be Gounod -- a point I will argue -- let it be thus. The mud and sugar of his Roméo et Juliette do not entirely disappear behind the splendor of the L.A. Opera's performance, but that night at the opera is, indeed, a dream happenstance. If you come away more oppressed by humidity than by heat, the fault resides in the opera's original formulators, not in the team currently at work at the Music Center. They have done their work well. Anna Netrebko sings the Juliet, and what comes out -- most of all in her Waltz number, which is the only tune anyone remembers from this very long opera -- is the stuff of moonbeams. Rolando Villazón, the Romeo, is a dreamboat who sings like an angel while climbing ladders onto balconies and into hearts. There's a scene in bed, with paired bare abs and pecs all agleam in dawn's early light; yum. Marc Barrard sings of Queen Mab, trippingly and with high delight; Suzanna Guzman is a delightfully crusty Nurse in the few lines the creators have left her; Anna-Maria Panzarella steals a small scene in the song for Stephano (Balthasar in Shakespeare).

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The Players Let Loose

Electrifying 'Roméo et Juliette' Lights Up the Stage

by Marc Porter Zasada [LA Downtown News Online]

An opera fan lives for those few thrilling moments: a rising tenor finds his full voice, a soprano proves passionate and unafraid, a duet soars off the stage. All that and more occurred on opening night of Roeo et Juliette last week, when Los Angeles Opera offered an electrifying new production of Charles Gounod's very French version of the English bard's story set in Italy.

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Posted by Gary at 2:31 AM

February 4, 2005

Democracy: An American Comedy in Washington

Ulysses S. Grant
Thomas LeClear (1818-1882)
Oil on canvas, circa 1880

Lost in Translation From Novels
To Play and Then Opera

By HEIDI WALESON [Wall Street Journal]
February 1, 2005; Page D8


How is it possible that a new opera crammed with hot-button subjects -- political corruption, ecclesiastical self-satisfaction, feminism, homosexuality -- could be a blandly inoffensive entertainment? "Democracy: An American Comedy," by composer Scott Wheeler and librettist Romulus Linney, commissioned by the Washington National Opera and given its world premiere last weekend, was disappointingly safe. Its provocative themes were smothered by a talky libretto that alternated between earnest exposition and sitcom jokes, set in smoothly tonal, insipid musical language.

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Posted by Gary at 4:10 AM

An Evening of Soprana and Mezzo Duets at the Barbican


Erica Jeal [Guardian]
Tuesday February 1, 2005

There are many profound experiences to be had in a concert hall, but an evening of soprano and mezzo duets isn't one of them. Still, on the disc they brought out last autumn, Barbara Bonney, Angelika Kirchschlager and accompanist Malcolm Martineau managed to pick out some of the more interesting numbers in this frothy repertoire. Many of those made it into this recital - along with lashings of sugary charm, a few girly hugs and a line in the programme from Kirchschlager about how it wasn't only their voices fitting together but their souls, too. Yeuch.

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Posted by Gary at 3:42 AM

February 2, 2005

BELLINI: I Capuleti e I Montecchi

Cristina Gallardo-DomasDaniela Barcellona

I Capuleti e I Montecchi
Vincenzo Bellini, music and Felice Romani, libretto
Premiere opera DVD 5269
Soloists, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Guido Adjmone-Marsan, conductor

Surely the reader of this reviewer is passionate about opera - why else, faithful one, have you found yourself at the fount of information and wisdom knows as Opera Today? Therefore, the need for an outfit such as Premiere Opera need not be belabored - true opera lovers know that there sometimes arises a need to have a performance that cannot easily be obtained, and that need may trump the desire to have the recording, (whether only audio, or visual as well, as in the case of this DVD) be of optimal quality.

So what we have here is a performance of April 7, 2002, at the Teatro Cuyas in the lovely Canary Islands. The opera is Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi, and the star gracing the stage as the lovely young Capulet is Cristina Gallardo-Domas. Perhaps it is her fans who will be most grateful to Premiere Opera for making available a record of the performance. Not to be slighted, however, is her imposing Romeo, a mezzo/trouser role. Daniela Barcellona is a rising star, and the reasons why are evident here. And Bellini lovers, as your reviewer knows well, are apt to want most any document of the master's work, as the operas get performances but not as often as his fans might wish.

For the modest price Premiere Opera asks, a modest reward is received. The audio and picture are not ideal, to say the least. The audio, thankfully, is acceptable - the Teatro Cuyas orchestra (otherwise unnamed) responds with sweet enthusiasm to the leadership of maestro Adjmone-Marsan, who resists the urge to pull the tempo around. Bellini's long melodic lines flow with gentle urgency, and the singers always seem to be right with the beat.

Visually, there are two problems, only one of which is on Premiere Opera's debit sheet. The DVD is apparently a copy of a video produced in house by three cameras, so there are, thankfully, a small number of angles. However, the picture in closer views takes on a fuzzy fog the shade of whatever color is predominant in the background - mostly blue, but pink in Juliet's act one bedroom scene. From a distance the color is more distinct, but the figures are less well delineated.

The staging, however, is so bland that a viewer can't regret the less than satisfactory picture all that much. Basically a unit-set of stone block walls, the stage is bare in most scenes - excepting a regal seat for Juliet's father in the first act, a bed for Juliet later, and the a slab for her body in the final scene. The costumes are traditional and appear, to the extent they can be fairly evaluated, tasteful and appropriate.

Despite the visual flaws, having something to look at is still rewarding as the two leads spin out some fine singing. Barcellona, a tall, strongly-built woman, has wonderfully strong breath control for Bellini's extended lines, and though the voice can't be called remarkably colorful, the basic tone captures all we need to know about Romeo's passion and callowness.

Gallardo-Domas embodies Juliet with simple gestures and effortless vocal beauty. Romani's libretto comes nowhere near Shakespeare's in the complexity of the characterization, especially as Juliet is concerned, but then again, the opera is based on the sources Shakespeare drew from, and not on the Bard's play. For example, Tybalt (Tebaldo here) survives and grieves with Romeo over Juliet's supposed death. For all that, Gallardo-Domas's talent makes her the focus of every scene in which she appears.

And it must be said that other than the opera title, date of performance and theatre name, Premiere Opera has offered this review copy with no other documentation of any kind. The singers and conductor as identified were found through online research by your reviewer. Unfortunately, the very good performers who bring Juliet's father and Friar Laurence to life could not be identified. The tenor who takes on Tebaldo is a Giorgio Casciari. He sings with fair power though not much elegance. Unfortunately, he is also about half as tall as Barcellona, which gives the act two duet/aborted duel between the two a comic aspect.

So with this Capuleti DVD a good performance of a very good opera with a mostly young, skilled cast has been preserved, though not as well preserved as one might have hoped. Sometimes the opera lover has to accept such limitations, and the right performance will even make said lover forget any flaws of presentation. For fans of Bellini or perhaps Gallardo-Domas, this DVD may be one such performance.

Chris Mullins

Posted by Gary at 6:53 PM

Seattle Opera Announces 2005/06 Season

McCaw Hall
Photo: CDi Engineers

[February 1, 2005] Seattle--Seattle Opera's general director, Speight Jenkins, officially announced the company's 2005/06 season today. The season opens October 15, 2005, with American composer Jake Heggie's most recent — and newly revised — opera, The End of the Affair. In January, Seattle Opera presents Johann Strauss, Jr.'s ever-popular operetta, Die Fledermaus, featuring a trio of Wagnerians — soprano Jane Eaglen, tenor Alan Woodrow, and Richard Berkeley-Steele — in a comic turn. Jonathan Miller's production of Mozart's Così fan tutte follows in February and March 2006. In May, the season concludes with a new production of Verdi's Macbeth, bringing together for the first time director Bernard Uzan and designer Robert Israel.

Since Seattle Opera will present Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen in the summer of 2005, the 2005/06 season is a four-opera subscription season rather than the customary five-opera season. Among the artists making Seattle Opera debuts during the 2005/06 season are:

Composer: Jake Heggie (The End of the Affair)

Conductor: Nicola Luisotti (Macbeth)

Director: Leonard Foglia (The End of the Affair)

Set Designer: Michael McGarty (The End of the Affair)

Costume Designer: Jess Goldstein (The End of the Affair)

Lighting Designer: Donald Holder (The End of the Affair)

Sopranos: Sarah Coburn (Adele in Die Fledermaus), Alexandra Deshorties and Jessica Jones (Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Opening Night cast and Sunday/Friday cast respectively), Julie Makerov
(Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, Sunday/Friday cast), Dana Beth Miller (Sarah Miles in The End of the Affair, Sunday/Friday cast), and Elena Zelenskaya (Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Sunday/Friday

Mezzo-Sopranos: Christine Rice and Maria Zifchak (Dorabella in Così fan tutte, Opening Night cast and Sunday/Friday cast respectively).

Tenors: Joseph Calleja (Macduff in Macbeth), Don Frazure (Ferrando in Così fan tutte, Sunday/ Friday cast), and Roger Honeywell (Gabriel von Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus, Sunday/Friday cast)

Baritones: Zeljko Lucic (Macbeth in Macbeth, Sunday/Friday cast), James Bobick (Maurice Bendrix in The End of the Affair, Sunday/Friday cast), and Brett Polegato (Henry Miles in The End of the Affair)

Bass-Baritone: Valarian Ruminski (Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, Sunday/Friday cast)

Bass: Burak Bilgili (Banquo in Macbeth)

Click here for complete press release.

Posted by Gary at 6:21 PM

Jirí Belohlávek Named to Head BBCSO

'I'm here to raise the standard'

[Daily Telegraph] (Filed: 02/02/2005)

Jirí Belohlávek's appointment to lead the BBCSO will restore the orchestra's high profile, says Geoffrey Norris

The BBC Symphony Orchestra confirmed yesterday that its new chief conductor from the first night of the 2006 Proms will be the Czech maestro Jirí Belohlávek. It was known two and a half years ago that Leonard Slatkin would be standing down from the job at the end of last season's Proms, so the announcement about his successor has been a long time coming, but the welcome news of Belohlávek's appointment is not a surprise. I floated him as the most likely choice in an article on these pages back in July last year. It was a hunch, but one based on a reasoned study of the form book, since he seemed to have precisely the qualities that the BBC should be looking for.

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Posted by Gary at 5:49 PM

February 1, 2005

Thomas Hampson in Düsseldorf

Grandiose Schumann-Interpretation: Liebe und Grab

Bariton Thomas Hampson und Pianist Wolfram Rieger liefern eine grandiose Schumann-Interpretation ab.

Düsseldorf. Das Lied gehört zu den konzentriertesten Kunstformen überhaupt. Es ist einerseits, wie Thomas Mann sagte, "eine ganze Welt", andererseits nimmt es nur wenig Zeit in Anspruch und bedarf lediglich zweier Musiker. Text und Musik vereinigen sich zu einer synchronen Sprache, die menschliches Empfinden in potenzierter Intensität ausdrückt. Aber das Lied ist auch eine für die Ausführenden anspruchsvolle Gattung.

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Posted by Gary at 7:12 PM

Vivaldi's Farnace at Resonanzen 2005

Verschworen, aber überglücklich

VON GERHARD KRAMER (Die Presse) 01.02.2005

Mit Antonio Vivaldis "Farnace" unter Jordi Savall fanden die Resonanzen 2005 ihren glanzvollen Abschluss.

Dreizehn als Glückszahl: Das 13. Festival Alter Musik wird in die Annalen des Wiener Konzerthau ses als besonders geglückt eingehen. Das kenntnisreich zusammengestellte Programm deckte nahezu alle wesentlichen Epochen, Nationalstile und Klangmöglichkeiten Alter Musik ab; fast durchwegs gut gewählt waren die Interpreten, und der Almanach könnte so manches historische und musikgeschichtliche Handbuch ersetzen.

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Posted by Gary at 6:42 PM

Markus Hinterhäuser — Salzburg Festival's Newly Designated Musik-Chef

Unverwechselbare Musik für Salzburg

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ (Die Presse) 02.02.2005

Als Vorkämpfer für die Musik der Moderne wurde er bekannt, als Konzertchef will Markus Hinterhäuser ein neues Profil für die Festspiele suchen.

Markus Hinterhäuser, designierter Musik-Chef der Festspiele, über seine Visionen

Da würde ich lügen", sagt er, "wenn ich jetzt die Grundlinien eines grossen Konzepts zu skizzieren versuchte, das ich für die Salzburger Festspiele habe" - Markus Hinterhäuser gibt sich im "Presse"-Gespräch pragmatisch: Was er über Musik und über die Möglichkeit denkt, ein spannendes Programm zu entwickeln, hat er schliesslich früher bereits gezeigt. Die Meldung kam ja nicht überraschend: Hinterhäuser, Mitinitiator des "Zeitfluss"-Festivals, das am Rande der Salzburger Festspiele seit den frühen neunziger Jahren für Beschäftigung mit der Avantgarde gesorgt hat, wird an der Seite des designierten Festspielintendanten Jürgen Flimm das Musikprogramm in Salzburg betreuen.

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Posted by Gary at 6:34 PM

Teresa Berganza — Two Interviews

Le Figaro

Teresa Berganza : "Je suis une extrémiste"

Le coeur des amoureux de bel canto va battre plus fort, mardi soir au Théâtre des Champs-élysées. La série "Les Grandes Voix" de Jean-Pierre Le Pavec accueille l'une des plus grandes dames de l'histoire de l'opéra au dernier demi-siècle. A un mois de son soixante-et-onzième anniversaire, Teresa Berganza précise qu'il ne faut pas espérer entendre le Chérubin ou la Rosine des années 50 : avec sa voix d'aujourd'hui, elle se consacre maintenant au récital, faisant la part belle au répertoire ibérique, qu'il soit espagnol (de Falla) ou argentin (Piazzolla). Mais elle a toujours la meme discipline, la meme élégance, le meme pétillement : un petit bout de femme vif-argent et intarissable, qui vous donne l'impression qu'on s'est toujours connus. Rencontre avec une immense artiste, qui a participé à l'âge d'or de l'opéra.

Click here for remainder of article.


"La voix est un oiseau rebelle"

propos recueillis par Paola Genone

Celle que le chef Claudio Abbado a surnommée "la plus sublime des mezzo-sopranos" est de retour à Paris pour un unique récital (le 1er février, au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées). Depuis ses débuts fracassants, en 1956, dans Cosi fan tutte, au Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, ce rossignol espagnol a posé sa voix ronde et voluptueuse dans les théâtres du monde entier. Berganza, 69 ans, est l'une des dernières icones de la génération Callas qui a fait rever les mélomanes. "Au coté de Placido Domingo, elle a livré la plus grande Carmen de l'histoire de l'opéra", a déclaré le maestro Karajan. Comme la Callas, "la Berganza" a la beauté facile, les yeux sombres et un regard foudroyant. Elle n'est pas que la Rosine de Mozart, la Cendrillon de Rossini, la Gitane endiablée de Bizet. C'est un esprit éclairé, une femme passionnée de peinture, de poésie, de littérature. Une grande dame et une grande âme

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Posted by Gary at 5:55 PM

Doina Dimitriu Wows Chicago

Something old, something new in Lyric's 'Tosca'

By John von Rhein
Tribune music critic

February 1 2005, 1:30 AM CST

The season's first performance of Puccini's "Tosca" at Lyric Opera on Monday night brought an authentic slice of operatic history to the Civic Opera House: The vintage production director Franco Zeffirelli mounted in 1964 for London's Royal Opera to lure Maria Callas out of semi-retirement. Tito Gobbi, the great Scarpia of his generation, was her co-star.

The well-worn staging has done honorable service for more than 40 years, having seen 38 revivals and 242 performances before it was finally retired in July. The classic production was promptly bought lock, stock and battlements by Lyric Opera, which is dedicating it to Gobbi's memory.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 5:35 PM

La Traviata at Covent Garden

La traviata, Royal Opera House, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times]
Published: February 1 2005 02:00 | Last updated: February 1 2005 02:00

Verdi demanded three qualities for his "fallen woman": looks, anima (soul) and a good stage presence. What he did not want was a glossy prima donna. The part broke convention not just histrionically, in its depiction of a contemporary prostitute, but also vocally. It needs a soprano agile enough to throw off the Act 1 coloratura, and strong enough to meet the dramatic requirements of Acts 2 and 3. That's asking a lot, and most sopranos fall short. So it was fascinating, at the Royal Opera's latest revival on Saturday, to come across Norah Amsellem. She has period looks, a pretty smile, a malleable physiognomy. She knows how to adapt her whole demeanour to Violetta's changing situation, so that the figure we behold on stage is not an opera singer but a human being with the power to disarm us emotionally. That may be a gift of acting, but it also reflects Amsellem's complete identification with the music. Her soprano is a bit one-dimensional, especially at the top, and she proved a surprisingly plain letter-reader. In all other set-pieces she had the theatre spellbound. "Dite alla giovine" and "Addio, del passato" were especially effective: Amsellem sang them in a beautifully controlled half-voice, stretching the tempo to its very limit. Some might call it self-indulgent; to me it sounded like the truth.

Click here for remainder of review.

Posted by Gary at 3:52 PM

Aida at Copenhagen's New Opera House

Royal Danish Opera — Aida
Photo: Martin Mydtskov Rønne

Aida in a sleek Danish setting

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times]
Published: January 31 2005 02:00 | Last updated: January 31 2005 02:00

Seen at night, the warmly lit interior of Copenhagen's new opera house glows invitingly across the water. The building is situated in a uniquely privileged position, opposite the Amalienborg Palace, lining up on an axis with the proudly domed Frederikskirken — so close to the city's heart that arias could easily waft over the water on an evening breeze.

Click here for the remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:42 PM