Recently in Reviews
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
26 Oct 2005
Great Operatic Arias, Vol. 17 — Christine Brewer
Beethoven Shines Thru the Mix
In the best of all possible worlds this recording of arias and show tunes would have been done in the original languages, the language of composition, with the vocal sounds intended by Gluck, Mozart, Weber, Wagner and others who defined great singing.
The singer Christine Brewer and the music deserve that, and not the often awkward translations and occasionally sub-par conducting and recording supplied by producer Chandos for the Moores Foundation’s English series [Chandos 3127].
Let me get my own bias, if that’s the term, out of the way up front: I find it hard to enjoy German, French or other languages translated into English for operatic performance. I’ll never forget an English National Opera production in the 1970s, of the French Manon with Valerie Masterson and Alberto Remedios, which should have been stunning, but was reduced to near-Gilbert and Sullivan in the English vernacular. But, hark! All is not lost, for just as soon as Brewer has delivered an impressive, if Englished, “Ocean Thou Mighty Monster” (Weber) on this disc, than she turns to Arthur Sullivan’s cantata, The Golden Legend for the big soprano/choral scene, “The Night is Calm and Cloudless” – a big dramatic scene in best Victorian style – that proves quite effective in its native English. I rest my case. Native lingo is best, for the language is part of the music.
With that caveat, how does La Brewer do with her big dramatic pieces mixed in with a few show tunes in this new arias disc? Swimmingly in the classical numbers, a bit less idiomatically in the translated operetta pieces by Lehar and Kalman, but fine in tunes of Richard Rodgers and Bob Merrill. Where there are problems, they seem to come from David Parry and the Philharmonia Orchestra and a choir. The lead-in to Countess Maritza’s entrance aria is a real bog – not only slow, but dragged down tonally and out of synch between orchestra and a slightly rough chorus. Better rehearsed, put back into German and speeded up it would be just fine. Brewer’s mellow low and mid-voice rendition of Rodger’s immortal “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is big league; it may well be remembered as a touchstone performance. Rossini’s Stabat Mater is dropped into the middle of these light songs, and the “Inflammatus” rings with resounding soprano tones just in case we’ve forgotten Brewer is one of the most luxurious big voices of our time. Three out of a dozen selections are in their original English, and they are entirely comfortable. The juicy Kalman operetta aria “Meine lippen sie kussen so heiss,” here “On my lips ev’ry kiss is like wine” (see what I mean?), is sung elegantly, if without the lilt and flirt of the German text. Beethoven’s concert aria, “Ah Perfido,” to my ear the best performance on this CD, is sandwiched between Lehar and Bob Merrill (his lovely Lili’s song ‘Mira’ from Carnival) creating a peculiar ambience if one listens straight through the disc, which is not recommended. But the Beethoven is superb, sung with much feeling and poise, and with ravishing tone, Brewer at her best. But who set the order of these selections? It’s wiser to make one’s own.
Finally, I do have to carp a little about the sonics: Heaven knows Brewer needs no help with pitch or amplitude. But the engineers have fiddled with the position of the voice, often too close, and have added resonance, which can sometimes create a ragged release or blurred detail, as in the smudged, rushed orchestral opening in Elisabeth’s Act II aria from Tannhauser, and the occasional forte high note can blast. Brewer sings “Mira – Can you imagine that,” so sweetly and simply, it is one of her finest numbers; but here it is set in a resonance too big and imposing. Even so: yum!
Most of all I wish conductor David Parry had worked his musical forces into a better fused whole, and achieved more graceful and consistent tempos. At times he is too cautious and can seem to hold back the soloist.
In sum: a mixed blessing, but worth its price due to the many beauties of Christine Brewer and quality of the music she sings. This is a good documentation of her distinguished talents, caught in top form over three days in March 2005.
J. A. Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico