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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
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.
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