Recently in Performances
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
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.
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.
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.
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.
23 Jan 2007
OONY Gives Rare Performance of Rossini's Otello
There are three reasons often cited for the paucity of performances of Rossini’s Otello: the horrible hack job of the Shakespearean drama by librettist Francesco Maria Berio, the difficulties in casting an opera requiring at least three top-rate tenor voices, and comparisons with Verdi’s popular opera of the same title.
Though these arguments hold much weight, they also have little
to do with Rossini’s expressive and thoroughly enjoyable score, as was evident in the Opera
Orchestra of New York’s concert performance of the work on Wednesday night at Carnegie Hall.
Shakespeare’s work was not as well-known in northern Italy at the time of the opera’s
composition, perhaps accounting for the free treatment that the story received. Berio’s retelling
of the classic tale makes such a mess of things that there is little left of the original drama but the
names of the characters. Lord Byron wrote of the opera in 1818: “They have been crucifying
Othello into an opera,” and in my mind he spoke the truth. Indeed, the story never leaves the
shores of Venice, the signal handkerchief becomes a furtive love letter, Desdemona is stabbed
rather than strangled, and Jago’s role in the drama is lessened while the peripheral Rodrigo
Regardless, the work was hugely successful in the nineteenth century, its popularity lasting until
Verdi’s Otello overtook it in the operatic canon. I would posit that the inevitable association of
the two works is the principal reason that Rossini’s now lesser-known interpretation has fallen
into obscurity as much as it has. Comparisons inevitably paint the earlier in a bad light by virtue
of its much-maligned libretto.
Seen as the product of Rossini, the work is well worth its weight in gold. There are some truly
beautiful moments, though it admittedly lags a bit in the middle. The opening, for instance,
features not one, not two, not even three. . . but FOUR solo tenors singing their hearts out in one
of the most exciting moments of tenor multiplicity in the repertoire. The Act Two confrontation
between Otello and Rodrigo is also a moment of high drama, and Desdemona’s Willow Song is
as hauntingly beautiful as is the more widely-known Verdi version.
The night also belonged to the performers that realized the impossible and sublimely beautiful
bel canto score, for the work cannot stand on its own without talented virtuosos. In fact, this
opera has always been at the mercy of willing and able singers; an abundance of virtuosic tenors
in Naples precipitated the composition of myriad vocal fireworks for the tenor voice. The cast
was led by veteran Rossini interpreter Bruce Ford, a last-minute stand-in for Ramon Vargas.
Ford sang a lot of notes on Wednesday night, all with confidence and ease. Equally impressive
was Kenneth Tarver as Roderigo, whose lyricism and light touch complemented the role. His
high-lying aria, Ah, come mai non senti, was one of the best moments of the night. Solid too was
Robert McPherson as the villainous Jago. His voice was that much louder, harsher than his
colleagues’— well-suited for the antagonist. In the men’s camp it would be remiss not also to
mention Gaston Rivero as the Doge (and later as the Gondolier), the fourth component in the
The preponderance of tenors on the stage precludes any solo female voices for the first half hour
of the work. Furthermore, in a seemingly concerted effort to keep the tessitura of the ensemble
in the human voice’s middle range, the role of Desdemona is written for a mezzo. When we
finally meet Desdemona, she remains a peripheral character — there is no entrance aria for her,
nor is there ever a love duet. Ruxandra Donose nevertheless sang the role beautifully, and the
impassioned Willow Song was the crown jewel of the concert.
If there was a drawback to the performance, it would be that the orchestra was not prepared, and
perhaps more to the point, unenthused about the performance. It is eternally difficult to create
cohesiveness in an opera orchestra, especially one that performs together only a few times per
year. Still, the group was sloppier than most: brass instruments fracked, there was at least one
blatant wrong note, and entrances were not together. On the other hand, the members of the
orchestra performed solos beautifully. The virtuosic instrumental passages typical of Rossini
were right on, and harpist Grance Paradise, Desdemona’s partner in the Willow Song, was as
stunning in the aria as the mezzo.
So hats off to Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York, for performing such an
undervalued work. Queler has long been a champion of lesser-known opera, and her choice of
programming here was excellent. Carry on Ms. Queler!