Recently in Reviews
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
24 Oct 2005
The Karajan Collection—Wagner Orchestral Music
“Das Wunder Karajan” – “the miracle of Karajan” – is a phrase associated with the conductor since he was thirty years old, and that phrase holds true in his recorded legacy. In addition to recent DVD releases, EMI has issued a series of CDs in its “The Karajan Collection,” which preserves many fine studio recordings.
Among the volumes in the set is a collection of orchestral music from Wagner’s operas, which stems several concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic between the end of September and early October in 1974. (Originally released in 1975, the selections were remastered in 2001.) Since Karajan was noted as an interpreter of Wagner’s music, and his work with the Berlin Philharmonic is well known, this recording preserves several fine pieces that are rarely played with such consistent intensity, and one can imagine the immediate impact on the audience.
The Overture to Tannhaüser, the longest selection on this CD, makes use of the Paris version of the score, and it includes the chorus of the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, rather than the exclusively orchestra rendering something found on recordings of excerpts from Wagner’s operas. The balance between chorus and orchestra is effective, just as the shifts in orchestral color that are part of the Overture are achieved with smoothly. The solid string textures form a rich foundation for the sometimes exposed woodwind and brass playing in this piece, and the result is as vibrant as it was thirty years ago, when Karajan recorded it.
Likewise, the full string sounds with which the Prelude to Lohengrin opens are difficult to match. While some may quibble with Karajan’s tempos, which can be a little quicker than some would like, this performance is hardly willful: Karajan shows a clear direction as the piece grows in intensity and orchestral color before it subsides in the rich string sounds found in the opening measures. Such masterful direction is borne out in the Prelude to the third act of the same opera, where the prominent brass sonorities offer the kind of polished sound usually associated with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti.
At the center of this recording is the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, a work for which Karajan was respected in the opera house. Karajan’s performance of the Prelude is among his finest, as he renders the details of the score precisely and elicits the emotional pitch that this piece must have. The only caveat about this performance is the attaca that connects the orchestral version of Isolde’s “Liebestod” to the end of the Prelude to the first act. While this may work in concert, the banding on a CD should reflect the discrete pieces. With the two pieces connected in this way, the pathos that is essential to the Prelude maps directly onto the “Liebestod” from the end of the third act. Even without including the voice in this performance, Karajan draws the appropriate emotion from the instruments in his cantabile approach to this piece.
It is difficult to follow the music from Tristan und Isolde in this collection, except with something different, and the Overture to Der fliegende Holländer offers sufficient contrast. This selection is, again, a solid performance that evokes the mood of the opera itself. As with the other pieces on this CD the sound vividly captures the fine playing. Karjan’s tempos are compelling, and fit not only the score as Wagner left it, but also the level of playing of the Berlin Philharmonic. Nothing is out of place in this performance, with every detail sounding in place, as though the Orchestra were a single instrument – an achievement of “das Wunder Karajan.” Yet in the final piece on this recording, Karajan builds somewhat on tradition to offer a more paced and majestic reading of the Overture to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In this in this performance, the work even slows a bit near the ending to bring out the fanfares and string accompaniments that are often blurred on other recordings. As the tempos slow toward the final passages, the intensity of the playing increases, with dynamic, resonant sounds that culminate in the well-spaced chords at the conclusion of the Overture.
This recording is a fine collection on its own merits, but it even more impressive as part of EMI’s “Karajan Collection.” The liner notes by Richard Osborne give a synopsis of Karajan’s work with Wagner’s music, but could be enhanced with a discography of the conductor’s recordings. The distinctive look of the CD packaging identifies the volumes in this series, with a black-and-white photo presumably from the time of the recording against a brown-tan background. While a list of the CDs in the set is not part of this recording, those interested might consult the website www.emiclassics.com. It is a fine release on its own merits, and all the more impressive as part of the set being issue by EMI.
James L. Zychowicz