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.
26 Sep 2005
LIDERMAN: The Song of Songs
Now this is one beautiful piece of music, a setting of the text of the “Song of Songs,” taken from the Hebrew Bible by the composer Jorge Liderman. Liderman is Argentinian by birth, now on the composition faculty of the Department of Music at the University of California at Berkeley. His work shows a distinct ability at the craft of composition: this is a very attractively put together work.
The text is a new translation by Chana and Ariel Bloch. In their notes to the work, they remark how exceptional the text is in a Biblical context, principally by its erotic nature, a compelling evocation of love at times quite physical. By its eroticism, amid the stern Biblical passages that surround it, the “Song of Songs” is indeed exceptional. The tone of the text itself, however, is entirely Biblical, deeply passionate about its subject matter, the narration of a lovers’ tale in sensuous detail.
While there is some fine writing for voice, chorus, and for a small ensemble of instruments (including a rocketing line for piccolo that returns as a refrain), the way in which the piece is put together shows Liderman’s accomplishment as a composer. New ideas are introduced sparingly, and one has the impression of material reused and reworked so as to create an immediate sense of familiarity. Like a finely tailored suit, the work fits one’s sensibility immediately; the effect is of something quite familiar and yet refreshingly new. This is the hallmark of craft: unobtrusive and yet substantial, fresh but not grating or intrusive.
The work owes something to Stravinsky’s Les Noces, although it is nowhere like the hard scrabble of that most curious thing. The progress of the piece is a little like Stravinsky’s “ribbon of time”--the sense of being immersed in the narrative, as if one were looking on at a lovers’ tryst, almost but not quite to point of voyeurism (whereas in Noces one has the sense of having wandered into the wedding proceedings almost against one’s better judgement). This is the gift of opera, and it would behoove Bridge to give us something of Liderman’s operatic oeuvre, perhaps his award winning Antigona Furiousa from 1991.
The use of the various ensembles also resembles Noces : their juxtaposition, pleasantly surprising and subtle at times, adds to the spontaneity of the narrative. The soprano Elissa Johnston does fine work as the Shulamite; her lover, the tenor Charles Bland, is a little overshadowed by both her voice and the voluptuousness of her role. The Chamber Chorus of the University of California at Berkeley, under the direction of Marika Kuzma, and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, David Milnes conductor, round out the complement with some good work. Liderman’s writing for the chorus is particularly notable: unobtrusive but solid, it hovers above the proceedings, again a sign of fine operatic chorus writing.
Bridge Records, like Lovely Music (reviewed elsewhere on this site), has been around long enough to establish a reputation at the capable hands of Becky and David Starobin. Bridge and Lovely stand at the forefront of a host of small labels that give the term independent label an authentic and reputable meaning. Their website is www.BridgeRecords.com. The presence of funding from the Alice M. Ditson fund should be noted here: Ms. Ditson’s bequest, made over a half century ago now, has come in aid of a quite remarkable number of musical enterprises, invariably of good quality. Were the world peopled with a few more patron like Alice Ditson, new music and good musicology would be in a much better state than it is today.
The recording would make a wonderful gift to someone inclined toward good vocal music or with an interest in Biblical literature. The dissonant nature of the work, like everything else about it, is held in firm hand, and thus someone who is not an amateur of new music will find it agreeable none the less. Highly recomended.
University of Ottawa