Recently in Reviews
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.
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.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
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.
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.
07 Aug 2005
The director of this production, Robert Herzl, composed an impressively thoughtful and serious essay for the DVD booklet. He considers the historical context of both the opera-story and the opera's premiere, taking into consideration Verdi's staging demands as well as the composer's willingness to compromise for the greater benefit of the production.
Eventually, this statement appears:
In my view, those who plan to put a work on the stage should first of all take a look at it from the viewpoint of the age in which it was written, in order to be able to present it in a manner that meets the aesthetic requirements of our own time.
Herzl goes on to explain how that principle guided the creation of this production at this "open-air event" (basically, a quarry) at the Festival St. Margarethen festival.
Viewers of the lamentable result will have to reconcile Herzl's essay with his show. Your reviewer cannot do so.
Working in conjunction with Manfred Waba (stage design and special effects), Herzl has devised an Aida with over-the-top stage action which frequently swamps the story and dwarfs the characters. Examples: At the end of her confrontation with Aida, Amneris hops into a chariot, grabs a shield and sword, and goes flying off the stage, like a Valkyrie. For the victory procession, Radames (probably a double, as the singer's face is masked) laboriously rides an elephant down a hillside onto the stage area. In the final scene, each of the three principals is placed in vertically aligned openings carved high into the quarry wall, with visible restraining ropes to keep the singers from accidentally falling forward and down to a doom more certain that suffocation in such a "tomb" (why Amneris is placed in the same location goes unexplained).
One might also wish for an explanation as to how a Nordic blonde youth ended up in Egypt for the requisite farce of a dance sequence. And what would Verdi have thought of the lovingly filmed fireworks show at intermission? Perhaps best not to know.
Even when such outlandish malarkey isn't provoking either groans or guffaws (or both), Herzl has failed to get satisfactory performances from his singers, with the Aida of Eszter Sumegi being a notable exception. Cornelia Helfricht's Amneris needs a good slap, as she struts arrogantly round the stage, frequently displaying a tendency to throws cups and articles of clothing to the ground in a hissy fit. The voice is no fresher than her matronly appearance would suggest.
As for Kostadin Andreev's Radames, here is a plump, not especially masculine Egyptian war hero given to pouting and "dramatic" arm waving. Andreev doesn't have a satisfactory voice to compensate for his unfortunate acting, with most of the voice no more than a mezzo forte bleat, although he can reach the high notes.
Eszter Sumegi retains her dignity for most of the evening. The tight vibrato will evoke varying responses in listeners, but she has it in fair control, and most miraculously, manages to create and hold onto a believable character. The best scene of the evening takes place on a bare stage, as Amonasro (a decent Igor Morosow) confronts his daughter. Here Herzl shows what he can do when quarry-sized antics don't come first.
At the start and after intermission, the orchestra is glimpsed, but their exact location in relation to the stage remains a mystery, as the quarry setting allows for no pit. The sound throughout, unsurprisingly, comes from a generic source, and all the singers sport small microphones, tastefully taped to the center of their foreheads. The cast resembles an alien race of a Star Trek episode where the budget only allowed for a brow ridge to indicate their extra-terrestrial origins.
Almost any other Aida on DVD earns preference over this one, but if a viewer wants more of the intimacy of the opera captured, the Zefferelli-produced Busetto production deserves mention. For high-powered singing and stage excess, perhaps the La Scala production with a quarry-sized Pavarotti would fit the bill.
Just anything, anything, other than this Festival St. Margarethen production. The fireworks are nice though.
Los Angeles Harbor College