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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Faust at HGO
08 Feb 2007

Houston stages a provocative “Faust”

A literary critic once recalled the day when a German could not clear his throat “without finding pithy precedent in Goethe.”

Yet, although the long-lived author’s “Faust” is without question one of the great works of world literature, the drama — near-impossible to render in verse in another language — is also among the most unread.

Indeed, most non-Germans who know the Faust story today are familiar with it through the re-telling of the horrors resulting from an aged professor’s pact with the Devil through Charles Gounod’s 1859 opera, billed in Germany for its focus on the Faust-Gretchen relationship as “Marguerite.”

Clearly a chestnut of the repertory, “Faust” is on stage this season for some 200 performances by 18 opera companies around the world. It is viewed, however, with feelings ranging from amusement to scorn by those who know the original; for them the opera offers at best an echo of Goethe’s protein-rich profundity.

The production of Gounod’s score currently on stage at the Houston Grand Opera contradicts them sharply. This is due in large part to the superlative conducting of Germany’s youthful Sebastian Lang-Lessing, now top maestro in both Nancy and Tasmania. He lays bare in this music a gravity and an undertow of sadness usually inaudible behind the glitter of the score and the many “hits” that explain its popularity.

Lang-Lessing, a frequent Houston guest, evokes superb playing from the ensemble that HGO music director Patrick Summers has so carefully built over the past several seasons. He makes a meaningful whole of Gounod’s somewhat disparate scenes, bringing both cohesion and dramatic intensity to the work.

The well-traveled production, when new here in 1985, was directed by Francesca Zambello; it has been revived by Elizabeth Bachman, who underscores the correctness of the conductor’s approach.

Drawing card of its return to the Brown Theater in the Wortham Center is Samuel Ramey as Mephistopheles, only one of the darkly Satanic figures among his signature roles.

Aside from an occasional wobble in the lowest notes, Ramey, well into his 60s, remains in his prime and accounts for much of the energy that drives the staging, seen on 26 January and again on January 28. There is no sign of wear in the voice, and the joy that he brings to his work infects all in the cast. The world’s reigning Don Giovanni for decades, Ramey remains a dashing presence.

The first act with Mephistopheles’ celebration of the Golden Calf is, of course, Ramey’s. He knows, however, that it is the love story that is the heart of “Faust” and takes care in Acts Two and Three not to steal the show..

Indeed, the scholars who interpret Goethe’s text have often suggested that Mephistopheles is not a separate being, but rather that “other soul” in the Faustian breast — that daemonic force that so often proves destructive both to its owner and those who fall to his force.

On January 26 an indisposed William Burden, a trifle sophomoric after his rejuvenation, surrendered the title role to veteran American tenor Gregory Kunde, last heard at the HGO as Pinkerton in 1983. Kunde, a gentle and sensitive Faust, took over the role completely for the matinee on January 29.

Tamasr Iveri from once-Soviet Georgia, is an un-Germanic Marguerite, happily freed from the blond braids and dirndl that — for those old enough to remember that era — often make her seem a survivor of the Hitler Youth. Overflowing with youthful elan as the work opens, Iveri is deeply feminine and movingly vulnerable as she moves through love to tragedy.

She explores the wonder of passion touchingly in the ballad “King in Thule.” Her “Jewel Song” is both jubilant and pensive, and she portrays Marguerite’s Ophelia-inspired derangement in the prison scene with Shakespearean pathos.

As Valentine Earle Patriarco avoids the tin-soldier trappings once thought essential to the role and sings the famous “Prayer” with melting warmth.

And in the mass military scene surrounding his return from battle it was a contemporary “bring-the-troops-home-now” touch to haul a badly wounded returnee on stage on a stretcher.

Gounod’s first made his mark as a composer for the church, and one might wish that he had concluded “Faust” with the powerful “Dies irae” from the Requiem for brother Valentine.

This is haunting music, obviously the work of a man of faith, and Earl Staley did well to break with the opulent naturalism of the staging to set it on a bleak and darkened stage dominated by an immense cross..

“Faust,” even when performed — as it is here — without the apocryphal “Walp;urgis Night.” is a long opera, and would be effective without the final Prison scene, although it is, of course, taken directly from Goethe.

In conclusion, a reminiscence: the music of “Faust” first came my way in my South Dakota childhood during the Great Depression. An early-morning Minneapolis disc jockey, sponsored by Dayton’s, played this final scene with a frequency that I found uncalled for.

The recording was in English and the claim that marguerite was “saved” versus the certainty that she was “damned” recalled Salvation Army Saturday night curb-side musicales, a further source of music in that distant, dismal day.

Perhaps it is for that reason that I still feel today that Gounod bathed somewhat excessively in the Blood of the Lamb.

And, finally, a moment of happy recall.

Sam Ramey, then just a kid from Colby, Kansas, first stood on an opera stage as an apprentice at the Central City Opera in 1963. He was in the chorus of a fine “Don Giovanni.”

Not surprising, perhaps, that he was to rule the Mozart world in that role for decades of his long career.

Wes Blomster

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