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Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
07 Aug 2005
LORTZING: Der Waffenschmied
Nineteenth-century German opera before Wagner is rarely performed in the United States, although it is still quite popular in Germany. While works by Spohr, Marschner, and Lortzing, among others, are very much a part of the repertory in many German houses, they are virtually unknown in America, and none of the above-mentioned composers is even mentioned in the index of the new seventh edition of the Burkholder-Grout-Palisca A History of Western Music. This new recording of Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied (The Armorer [of Worms]) suggests not only why this work is still performed. It also suggests that American audiences are missing out on a delightful body of work for the lyric stage. From Lortzing's relatively better-known works, such as Zar und Zimmermann or Der Wildschuetz, to works by Marschner, such as Der Vampyr, nineteenth-century German opera with spoken dialogue is often highly entertaining and musically satisfying, if one is not anticipating work of great gravitas. And who is always in the mood for Tristan und Isolde, masterpiece that it is?
Lortzing was, as John Warrack has noted, "the most inventive composer of opera with spoken dialogue in mid-19th-century Germany," and his skills are evident in this wonderful performance. While Lortzing knew well the masters who preceded him - we can frequently hear traces of Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, and others, as well as French opera-comique and Italian buffa, in this and other scores - his approach and results were individual. Perhaps guided by a theatrical instinct cultivated by years spent acting, singing, and conducting for the stage, Lortzing was a fine craftsman and, by Der Waffenschmied, excellent orchestrator whose entertainments continue to please a wide range of German audiences.
The accompanying essay by Juergen Schlaeder — Marie Praeder provided the sometimes awkward translation — addresses Lortzing's praise of middle-class values in the work. While Count von Liebenau is of the elite class, for instance, it is under the disguise of an apprentice armorer that he wins the love of Marie, the daughter of Stadinger, the master armorer of the title. Stadinger is the character who embodies the steady middle-class values upheld in the work, and when, near the opera's end, he sings of what Schlaeder refers to as "the restoration of traditional ideas of morality," it is in a strophic folk-like song that would have appealed to the middle-class audience for the whom the work was intended. (The work premiered in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1846, however, and, as Warrack points out, the Viennese audience was less taken with the "homely and very German humor" than subsequent German audiences have been.) Sir John Tomlinson, a very highly regarded Wagnerian specialist, brings a remarkable vocal presence to this folk-like Lied, as Lortzing calls it, as well as a fine sense of character and style throughout. It's rather like Hans Sachs lite, and it's more than rather nice.
The other standout vocal performance is by soprano Ruth Ziesak as Marie. While she may fall short of the exceptional insight and warmth that the late Lucia Popp brought to this kind of role (and everything else she sang), she comes close to it. The voice is rich and expressive, and Ziesak's performance of the aria that closes the Act 1 finale is a highlight of the recording. She also scores with the opening of Act 3, another extended aria for Marie, as she does in her duets with the Count (Boje Skovhus) and in the ensembles.
It is in the ensembles that Lortzing shines. The second act sextet is quite well written. It begins with an extended unison passage that blossoms into a passage reminiscent of Mozart; after this, its comic sensibility grows as the ensemble begins to sound more and more like refugees from Rossini. After the sextet, a duet for Stadinger and Georg, the Count's squire disguised as another apprentice, further demonstrates Lortzing's familiarity with the Italian buffa style: under Georg's lilting melody, Stadinger, the bass, sings a patter section, and the whole segment recalls Rossini's Figaro and Almaviva's Act 1 duet at the end of The Barber of Seville. The chorus is exceptionally good throughout, providing a subtlety and richness that at times surpasses the material. Its performance of "Wie herrlich ist's im Gruenen," a delightful chorus in Act 2, is particularly satisfying, both in how it's written and in how it's performed. The finales to each act are also especially effective.
The CD's sound is above average, although the louder ensemble passages suffer a bit. Overall, however, the engineering serves the work well. The booklet, in German and English, provides the essay mentioned above, an exploration of Lortzing's life and the work in terms of their demonstration of middle class values and perspectives. It provides next to nothing in terms of plot synopsis, however, although it does provide a breakdown of the tracks by title, character, and classification (aria, chorus, sextet, etc.).
I probably should have mentioned at the beginning of this review that I am a bit of a fan of this genre - my CD collection includes several works by each of the composers mentioned above, and while I have never seen any of them performed, I have no problem imagining why they remain popular in Germany. They are delightful, stage-worthy, and, at times, exuberant, works with much to offer. This recording would serve as a fine introduction to nineteenth-century German opera after von Weber and before Wagner. It is certainly a welcome addition to my collection.
Jim Lovensheimer, Ph.D.
Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University