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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.



J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Third and Fourth Sundays after Easter
26 Oct 2005

BACH: Cantatas, vol. 18

Here we have another part of John Eliot Gardiner’s remarkable Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, undertaken to perform—and record live—all of Bach’s surviving church cantatas at many different churches in a single year.

J. S. Bach: Cantatas for the Third and Fourth Sundays after Easter

Brigitte Geller, William Towers, Mark Padmore, Julian Clarkson, Robin Tyson, James Gilchrist, Stephen Varcoe, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (cond.)

Soli Deo Gloria SDG 107 [2CDs]


This volume contains 6 cantatas, 3 each for the third and fourth Sundays after Easter. Despite the unimaginable number of difficulties in coordinating the series (differing pitch of various organs, very limited rehearsal time, changes in personnel, travel arrangements for some 40 musicians and a crew of other people) that such a project entails, this disc ranks in quality with the finest in modern Baroque performances.

From the titles of the cantatas for Jubilate Sunday, the first group of three, we might gather that the works provide a lugubrious mood: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (Weeping, Wailing, Fretting, Fearing), BWV 12; Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (Ye shall weep and lament), BWV 103; and Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal in das Reich Gottes eingehen (We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God), BWV 146. (As the reader may note, Richard Stokes’s English translations, provided in the accompanying booklet, can be quite inelegant, even though they were not devised to match the German text syllable for syllable so that they could be sung without altering the music.)

The mournful feeling is reflected in the first two numbers of BWV 12: a sinfonia with a slow, plaintive, and beautifully played oboe solo (are there ever slow, non-plaintive oboe solos?), followed by a choral movement that Bach later adapted for the Crucifixus of the Mass in B minor to portray the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. Gardiner terms each of the first four words “a heart-rending sob” that may be thought of in connection with the “four hammer blows nailing Christ’s flesh to the wood of the cross.” The image takes on credibility when one realizes that the corresponding syllables in the Mass are Cru-ci-fi-xus, He was crucified.

The words of the alto recitative that follows, Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal from Acts 14:22, would later find their way into the title and opening chorus of BWV 146. The mood brightens considerably in successive arias for bass and tenor, both with a trumpet obbligato playing the melody of the Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my delight), and the closing chorale is positively joyful: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (What God does is well done).

The Cantata BWV 103 follows a somewhat similar trajectory: weeping, lamentation, and transgression are the subjects of the first three movements, although Bach plays a little trick on listeners. The opening orchestral introduction sounds quite jolly, but when the solo voices enter, we realize that “the festive instrumental theme represents not the disciples’ joy at Christ’s resurrection but the skeptics’ riotous laughter at their discomfort” (Gardiner). Then an alto recitative begins to turn things around, trusting “that my sadness shall be turned into joy”; a rapturous tenor aria declares that Jesus will reappear; and the happy and uplifting chorale at the end of the work is a verse from Was mein Gott will, das g’scheh’ allzeit (What my God wants, that will always happen), stating that brief pain shall turn to joy.

Finally, in the third cantata for Jubilate, BWV 146, we hear an opening sinfonia that sounds suspiciously like the first movement of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1052a) with an organ playing the solo part. Well, that is exactly what it is, and the opening chorus that follows, Weinen, Klagen, equals the second movement of the concerto with added choral parts. The now-familiar turn to happier matters occurs more gradually through the middle movements, and the cantata ends with a verse from the chorale Werde munter, mein Gemüte (Become enlivened, my spirit).

Disc 2 of this set includes three works composed for Cantate Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Easter, including Wo gehest du hin? (Whither goest thou), BWV 166; Es ist euch gut, daß ich hingehe (It is expedient[!] for you that I go away), BWV 108; and Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut (Give laud and praise to the highest good), BWV 117. I will let the listener enjoy the disc without comment, except to point out a single cut: the dramatic and sensitive performance of the closing chorale of BWV 166, Wer weiß, wie nahe mir mein Ende (Who knows how near my end is). It is Gardiner and his group at their very best.

Michael Ochs

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