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‘[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
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moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
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For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
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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
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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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
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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.
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Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
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Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
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concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
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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
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The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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