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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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
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