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The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[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’.
16 Feb 2007
Jean-Baptiste Lully, Armide (Opera Lafayette)
The Opera Lafayette of Washington DC has been engaged in a new project this season – the Armide Project, as the group dubbed its ambitious plan, in collaboration with the University of Maryland Opera Studio, to present two great operas set to the same celebrated Philippe Quinault libretto.
On February 4th, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park MD hosted a
concert performance of the original Armide – the 1686 masterpiece by Jean-Baptiste Lully; in
April, the collaborators will offer a fully staged production of the 1777 Armide by Christoph
Willibald Gluck, who resolved to conquer Paris by confronting the most famous creation of his
Lully’s Armide, an enduring hit on the French operatic stage for a century after its premiere, is
not often heard these days – particularly live. So, even unstaged, Opera Lafayette’s production of
this brilliant, complex score was a rare treat to both the early music fans and the generally
curious who packed the sold-out Dekelboum concert hall last Saturday afternoon. The 16-piece
choir and a period instrument ensemble supported an international – and internationally
acclaimed – group of soloists, some with most impressive baroque opera credentials. The casting
evidently aimed at creating an ingenious mirror to Quinault’s well-known storyline, for it was
dominated by Stephanie Houtzeel’s Armide. Tall, with regal posture, clad in blazing red jacket,
the warrior princess ruled her universe with supreme confidence, commanding both respect and
admiration of the troupes with her vocal power, range, and technique. Almost uncomfortable at
times in its intense expressivity, Houtzeel’s performance was a reminder that the line between
high drama and embarrassing melodrama on the 17th-century French stage would probably
appear rather blurred to us.
In her interactions with other characters, Armide – in yet another hommage to Quinault – found
herself conquered, on occasion, by the “implacable” Renaud of Robert Getchell. His ringing
metallic tone, even in all registers, superb sound production, diction, and articulation were most
appropriate for a hero crusader, while a certain lack of subtlety in phrasing and ornamentation
still kept the audience’s sympathy securely with Armide. Among supporting roles, François Loup
who pulled double duty as Hidraoth and Ubalde won praise for his rich, warm tone and elegant
phrasing. William Sharp, Miriam Dubrow, and Tony Boutté did very well in their multiple roles
(although Dubrow sounded a touch hesitant sometimes). Venerable Ann Monoyios appeared a
little tense and had trouble with her projection in the prologue, but by the end of the evening one
could see why this sought-after artist regularly works with the luminaries of period music.
The chorus did an excellent job throughout the performance, while the enthusiastic baton of
Opera Lafayette’s artistic director Ryan Brown also coaxed some fine playing from the
instrumentalists, including two lovely baroque flutes and a diverse continuo group of French
viola da gamba, guitar, theorbo, cello, and harpsichord. The strings – divided according to French
baroque tradition into five, rather than four parts – were less impressive in my opinion: their
articulations (particularly in double-dotted passages) could have been sharper, and the ornaments
more precise. There were also some issues with tempo changes between duple- and triple-time
passages in the prologue. Yet overall, the ensemble’s rendition of the famously complex score
was admirable, and the applause well deserved.
One of the most fascinating features of this concert performance was the part of it that was not, in
fact, “concert”: close to forty minutes of period dancing performed by members of the New York
Baroque Dance Company and choreographed especially for this production by Catherine Turocy.
Unlike the singers, the dancers were costumed: ladies exhibited a contemporary take on high
baroque fashion, complete with hair and shoes, while male helmets and tunics reminded one
more of ancient Rome than the medieval crusades or Louis XIV’s France (no one – in the
audience, at least – seemed to care). As the choreographer herself explained in a pre-concert Q &
A, very few details of original choreography survive from Lully’s day; with the exception of a
single gigue and two or three versions of the famous Act 5 passacaille, we can only guess what
the dancing in Armide would have been like. So, Turocy made a guess – an educated one. The
dancers offered examples of stylized baroque choreography: symmetrical, filled with traditional
poses, movements, and gestures, and colored with appropriate symbolism as the main characters
and ideas of the opera were reflected in its sister medium of ballet. The good spirits, for instance,
were dressed in light-colored costumes and porcelain white masks, while the evil ones wore
black, with brown masks, and carried long black veils that they would place over the head of
their counterparts to symbolize their transformation into them. Along with the unexpectedly
athletic set dances, there were episodes of pantomime, as the “stand-ins” for main characters
played out the story in movement and gesture (for example, in Renaud’s famous Act 2 air de
sommeil). Turocy clearly mined the score for ideas but treated the information creatively: for
instance, in Act 3 divertissement, the followers of Hate are meant to capture Love and
symbolically break its arrows to free Armide from her feelings for Renaud. In the current
production, both captured Amour and (one) arrow were present, but the 17th-century cupid
would hardly have behaved quite so insolently in front of the opera’s illustrious original
The Opera Lafayette’s production of Armide was a long-awaited premiere of the new and what
surely will be a definitive edition of this opera, prepared by Lois Rosow, a renowned Lully
specialist and a professor of musicology at the Ohio State University. Dr Rosow, who was
present at the performance, shared her expertise with the audience during the pre-concert Q&A
that also included Ms. Turocy and Mr. Brown. Thankfully, this expertise will soon be available
to baroque opera lovers worldwide: recorded for the Naxos label, Opera Lafayette’s performance
of Lully’s masterpiece is due to be released in 2008.