Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.



Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas, vol. 8
28 Sep 2005

BACH: Cantatas, Vol. 8

On Christmas 1999, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists with conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner set out on one of the most unusual musical tours ever undertaken.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantatas, vol. 8

Malin Hartelius; Katharine Fuge; William Towers; Robin Tyson; James Gilchrist; Mark Padmore; Peter Harvey; Thomas Guthrie; The Monteverdi Choir; The English Baroque Soloists; John Eliot Gardiner

Monteverdi Productions SDG 104 [2CDs]


The group performed all 198 surviving sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach in the course of one year, traveling to a variety of churches in Europe beginning in Weimar, and culminating in three Christmastime concerts at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. For the most part, each performance featured cantatas written by Bach for the particular liturgical feast day on which the concert was presented. All the concerts were recorded live, this set containing the programs of September 28 and October 7, 2000, the fifteenth and sixteenth Sundays after Trinity, at the churches Unser Lieben Frauen in Bremen and Santo Domingo de Bonaval in Santiago de Compostela, respectively.

Given that the group had been traveling, rehearsing, and peforming a different handful of cantatas week after week for nine months, one would think the members would have run out of steam when these concerts took place. Indeed, Sir John writes in the liner notes that “our approach was influenced by several factors: time (never enough), geography (the initial retracing of Bach’s footsteps in Thuringia and Saxony), architecture (the churches both great and small where we performed), the impact of one week’s music on the next and on the different permutations of players and singers joining and rejoining the pilgrimage, and, inevitably, the hazards of weather, travel and fatigue.” So do these performances reflect the ravages of this devilish performance schedule? Far from it, the performances are fresh, energetic, sensitive, and suffused with the spirit of Bach at its finest.

This set, one of the first two to be released—the other, recorded in London, includes three cantatas for the Feast of John the Baptist and three for the First Sunday after Trinity—contains two of my favorites (well, really, my favorite is whichever one I’m listening to at the moment), “Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz? BWV 138” and the solo cantata for soprano “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! BWV 51.” In the heart-rending opening movement of BWV 138, Bach gives us a wonderful mixture of recitative for the middle voices—alto and tenor soloists—skilfully intermeshed with the chorale of the title (Why are you troubled, my heart) sung by the full chorus. The same forces are employed in the third movement, which follows a bass recitative and is itself followed by solo movements for tenor, bass, and alto. For the closing chorale, Bach foregoes the usual plain, chordal setting and instead gives us a full-scale “chorale-prelude”-type setting.

The mood of next cantata on the program, “Was Gott tut das ist wohlgetan II” BWV 99, contrasts greatly, reflecting the praiseful text (What God does, is well done). In BWV 51 (Rejoice unto God in all lands!), the talented soprano soloist Marlin Hartelius acquits herself extremely well, as does the trumpet soloist, Niklas Eklund. Following a recitative, we hear a beautifully sensitive rendition of the aria “Höchster, mache deine Güte ferner alle Morgen neu” (Highest One, extend Thy goodness newly each morning). Next we get another chorale-prelude setting, but with the soloist instead of a chorus singing the chorale melody. The trumpet returns for the rousing “Alleluja!” that brings the work to a close.

The final cantata on disc 1, “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan III” BWV 100, presents all six verses of the chorale text, each in a different setting: chorale-prelude setting for full chorus and orchestra, including flute, 2 oboes 2 horns, and strings; a contrapuntal duet between alto and tenor, with continuo; a soprano aria with flute obbligato; a bass aria with string accompaniment; an alto aria with oboe obbligato; and full chorus together with the full orchestra to balance the opening chorus and frame the whole work. There is no intermediate text, therefore no recitatives.

Disc 2 contains four cantatas: “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” BWV 161; “Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende?” BWV 27; Liebster Gott, wann werd ich sterben?” BWV 8; and “Christus, der ist mein Leben, BWV 95. Translations of these titles—“Come, Sweet Hour of Death,” “Who Knows How Near My End Is?” “Dearest God, When Will I Die?” and “Christ Who Is My Life, which continues “to die is my reward”—clearly proclaim their subject. Death, according to the Lutheran tradition of Bach’s time, is viewed as sweet, desirable, and a release from what is regarded as an unfulfilled and difficult life. Nevertheless, in most of the music to which Bach set these words is not as happy and joyful as one might expect, given those—one might say lugubrious—texts. Indeed, as John Eliot Gardiner points out in his excellent program notes, BWV 95 uses four successive funeral hymns.

If this set is indicative of what is to come, Bach cantata fans should start saving now to purchase all of them. Of course, these same listeners should already own the 17 or so volumes released so far of the complete cantatas recorded by Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir. But just think, you’ll never have to buy Bach cantatas again unless, of course, another group comes out with such first-class performances as these.

Note a possible confusion: four CDs of cantatas from the Pilgrimage were issued on the Archiv label by Deutsche Grammophon, which then backed out of the project. Sir John then established his own label, Moteverdi Productions, to continue the set, picking up from where DG left off.

Michael Ochs

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):