Recently in Performances
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
23 Aug 2005
CHRISTINE BREWER — The ‘Anti-Fleming’
As everyone knows, the art of the song recital is in decline. When you and I were young Maggie, Columbia Concerts and Community Concerts regularly sent vocal and other musical artists all around America providing a never fading rainbow of wonderful music, as great classical music performers educated and thrilled us with their art. For example, As a youth I once heard Leonard Warren give a recital in a high school auditorium in Webster Groves, Missouri, price of admission $5. I still have the ticket stub - and the memories. Kathleen Ferrier, Robert Casadesus Jennie Tourel and Guiomar Novaes performed in my town when I was a kid.
Now the rainbow has faded and only a few festivals and occasional venues in the largest cities offer such vocal and instrumental recitals. Happily, one of these is the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, which presented the elegant soprano Christine Brewer in a concert of American art songs August 9, in the 400-seat St Francis Auditorium, part of the Museum of New Mexico in downtown Santa Fe. La Brewer sang to an audience of musical cognoscenti, alas in a half-filled hall. Her co-equal at the piano was Craig Rutenberg, and together they gave a 90-minute program that was the stuff of legend it was so beautifully achieved. In her unaffected naturalness as a singer, it seems apt to call Brewer 'the anti-Fleming.' Both sopranos are gifted artists, but Brewer's artistic integrity and naturalness make her an ideal recitalist compared to the over-contrivance and mannerisms of a Fleming. Bottom line: Brewer is there for the music, nothing else gets in the way.
As is becoming known, Brewer's large, wide-ranging soprano voice is one of the most beautiful before the public today. She is singing Isolde in Edinburgh as I write this, and will be San Francisco's Isolde next season, and no doubt will be heard in other Wagnerian roles over years to come. One of my favorite comments read recently about Brewer is, "she may be in her late 40s, but the voice sounds 35!" This is true; her tone is rich and steady; she is the mistress of color and nuance; her musical instincts are true and dramatically valid; her diction is clear (as St Louis heard in June with her Queen Elizabeth in Britten's Gloriana), and her command of dynamic shading is breathtaking. She has everything that Helen Traubel had, plus the three top soprano notes, and everything Eileen Farrell had plus the ability to sing a haunting piano and spinning pianissimo tone. If this sounds like I am overstating things, go hear for yourself.
The program of art songs, as they used to be called, was well chosen and smartly paced. Works of John Carter and Richard Hundley, along with an operatic sounding mini-cycle by J. C. Menotti dominated the first half. This music seemed not well known to the audience, which received it warmly. Better known were songs of Charles Ives and Harold Arlen, and a set of four songs regularly sung by Kirsten Flagstad on her American recital tours, by Sam Barber, Edwin McArthur, Walter Kramer and Mildred Lund Tyson. Kramer's was an impressionistic song "Now Like a Lantern," from 1919 based on a James Joyce poem; it was fascinating. For her first encore, the intrepid soprano took on the music critics with a song by Celius Dougherty, "Review" that parodied a critique of a vocal recital. This derring-do paid off with its gentle but pointed chiding of cliched review writing; the audience was much amused by the singer's comic abilities. Brewer ended with a surprise, "If I Could Tell You," the long-forgotten theme song of The Voice of Firestone, a song that once swept America every week on radio and television, written by none other than Idabelle Smith Firestone, wife of rubber magnate. The moment Craig Rutenberg played the intro much of the audience stirred in recognition of the sentimental ballad, and after the soprano's radiant performance gave her a standing ovation. Mrs. Firestone never had it so good. [The song can be heard on a number of VHS video tape issues of The Voice of Firestone, performed by a wide variety of singers, none finer than the youthful golden soprano of Eleanor Steber.]
J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico