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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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
21 Oct 2005
Welsh songs worth discovering
SAIN (the Welsh word for 'sound', and pronounced like the English word 'sign') is Wales' leading recording company, founded in 1969 in Cardiff by Dafydd Iwan, Huw Jones and Brian Morgan Edwards. The label has a strong social and political message, and for the first few years, SAIN specialised in songs by young singers, many of them concerning the national and linguistic resurgence of Wales, which had begun in the 60's.
So it is not surprising that the first CD's of the world famous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel were produced by this label. His first CD was released in 1988, when Bryn Terfel was the winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship. This was before his opera debut, and the compilation on this CD seems like an unconnected collection of casting arias. Besides Welsh songs of Idris Lewis, R. Vaughan Williams, Eric Jones, Vincent Davies, W. Mathews Williams, Osborne Roberts, W. Bradwen Jones, and two traditional songs arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri, you will find Schubert’s "Fischermädchen", Mozart’s "Non più andrai", Gounod’s "Vous qui faites l'endormie", Händel’s "But who may abide the day of his coming?", Tosti’s "Ideale" and Franco Leoni’s "Tally-Ho!". This may be dramaturgically strange, but it shows the great variety of the young singer at the beginning of his career. Terfel’s wonderful voice is powerful and technically effortless, but sometimes sounds on this CD a little exhausted or not quite mature. This does, however, not reduce the listening enjoyment. The booklet is sparse with only short descriptions of the songs in English, and contains nothing about Welsh composers, some of whom are not well known.
In 1990 the second Bryn Terfel CD was released with the title "Cyfrol2-Volume2", again under the label SAIN. The booklet is even more meagre than that of the debut album: the publisher did not take the trouble to name the composers of some of the pieces. The collection seems similarly arbitrary as that of the first CD. Thus we find here the well known aria from "The Fiddler on the Roof" in Welsh, three beautiful Welsh songs by Meirion Williams, Schubert’s "Ständchen", an aria from the musical "South Pacific", an aria by Handel from "Judas Maccabäus" with piano accompaniment - marvelously sung by Bryn Terfel! -, songs by William Davies, W. Albert Williams, John Ireland, Mansel Treharne Thomas and Richard Samuel Hughes, a canzonet by Haydn, the Coat aria from "La Bohème", Don Giovanni's "Serenade" - all arias with piano accompaniment. Bryn Terfel's voice is beautiful, in his own language completely free and easy. But also listening to the opera arias one can anticipate the world career of this great singer. The Welsh songs are worth discovering. One wishes for a more detailed booklet about these unknown compositions.
A year later, 1991, SAIN recorded with Bryn Terfel singing Schubert's „Schwanengesang“ with the well known pianist Malcolm Martineau. The quality of the recording is technically and musically excellent. Bryn Terfel has a beautiful flowing voice with apparently infinite breath and easy height. However his pronounciation of the German vowels and consonants is shaped by the Italian vowel sound and thus sometimes irritating to a German ear. Through this strange vowel sound each German word has a great importance, and sometimes the intermediate tones are missing; perhaps only a native speaker can produce these. This is remarkably apparent in "Abschied", where the ambiguity which one knows from Fischer-Dieskau is missing and Bryn Terfel is suffering exclusively. Every "Ade" he sings with great importance. Also the "Taubenpost" he sings similarily ponderous and suffering. However, Bryn Terfel sings "Kriegers Ahnung", "Aufenthalt", "Der Atlas" and "Die Stadt" in a wonderful way. Here his powerful bass-baritone voice and his great strength is especially effective. The booklet is in Welsh, English and German and in more detail than the ones included in the first two CD's.
1993 SAIN released the CD "Un Canu Caneuon" with songs by the Welsh composer Meirion Williams, sung by Bryn Terfel, with Annette Bryn Parri at the piano. Meirion Williams lived from 1901-1976 and was one of the composers mainly responsible for transforming Welsh classical song-writing. He always took great care to make sure that the words he used were appropriate for the expression of feelings. This CD contains the compositions of 40 years, including well known Welsh songs that Meirion Williams composed as a young man, and at the end the cycle "Adlewych", which he composed for BBC Wales when he was almost 70 years old. Meirion Williams' style is influenced by late romanticism. Developments like the twelve-tone technique have passed him by. This by no means diminishes the compositions: they are wonderful and passionate, and should be known outside Wales! Williams’ songs are about the love of country and landscape, and Welsh is a very singable language. The songs have wonderful melodies for the language and voice. The combination Bryn Terfel / Meirion Williams is ideal! Bryn Terfel's vigorous voice flows with infinite breath, and it is a joy to listen to him. This time the booklet is very detailed in Welsh and English, and one hopes that many listeners will get to know the songs of Meirion Williams.
Besides the CD's of Bryn Terfel, SAIN released the second solo album of the young Welsh tenor Rhys Meirion in 2004. Rhys Meirion was member of the Frankfurter Opera and this year sings "Rodolfo" in Sydney and "Roméo" in Melbourne. The label compares him with Bryn Terfel, with whom he has also sung duets. Rhys Meirion - a bright light tenor - has not made a good choice with the selection of all the songs for this CD. The lyric Welsh songs by Bilys Elwyn Edwards, R Lowry and Meirion Williams with piano accompaniment are beautiful and appropiate for his voice. Also very musical and beautiful are his version of "Caro Mio Ben" by Guiseppe Giordini. Unfortunately, for some songs and arias keyboard instead of orchestra accompaniment was chosen, and the keyboard playing falsifies the total sound of the compositions. In addition, Rhys Meirion has chosen 3 compositions by a friend of his, the composer Robat Arwyn, with keyboard and choir accompaniment, which are indescribable trivial. In the Italian arias "Torna a Surriento" by Curtis and "Core 'Ngrato" by Cadillo the keyboard sound seems inconvenient to the extent that it is difficult to listen to the singer`s voice. When one gets accustomed to Rhys Meirion`s bright voice he sings very musically, but one is relieved as a listener when he manages to reach the high notes. In "Ave Maria" by Schubert - again with keyboard accompaniment - one wonders painfully whether Meiron’s breath will be enough for the long phrases. The final piece, "Ombra Mai Fu" by Handel was - for whatever reasons - arranged by the pianist Annette Bryn Parri for keyboard, choir and tenor, which can seem banal. After listening to this CD I wish this young singer and the label more luck and a sensible ear in the compilation of the next program.