Recently in Performances
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
21 Feb 2005
Michael Bohnen: At the Metropolitan Opera, New York
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).
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.