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.
28 Mar 2007
Camacho’s Wedding (Die Hochzeit des Camacho)
UC Opera now have a half-century’s reputation to live up to; they were responsible for the UK premieres of such works as Das Liebesverbot, The Maid of Orleans, Alzira, Oberto and the 1847 version of Macbeth.
unquestionably a need for a company such as this on London’s operatic
scene; they continue to fly the flag for works which would not otherwise be
performed, and are almost unique in offering these obscure works in staged
performance rather than in concert.
The company exists independently of the academic functions of University
College London, which does not even have a music department; instead the
company draws its large and enthusiastic amateur chorus, orchestra and lesser
principals from the University College Union Music Society, and hires in
young professional artists for the leading roles – alumni include
Felicity Lott, Robert Lloyd and Jonathan Summers, and Charles Mackerras
served briefly as Musical Director during the 1950s.
Die Hochzeit des Camacho was written by Mendelssohn between the ages of
fourteen and sixteen. It is a lively, folksy comic opera based on an episode
from Don Quixote, about a conspiracy on the part of the young and amiable
Basilio to save his beloved Quiteria from a forced marriage to the wealthy
but unprepossessing Camacho. After many complications, some largely pointless
interventions by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, and a faked suicide, Basilio
gets the girl; her father and Camacho accept their union and all live happily
The production, by Duncan McFarland, was set in the context of a bedtime
story being told to a young boy (Oliver Kirk) by his nurse (Liz Lea). This
gave the feel of a cosy Christmas family movie. Christopher Giles’s set
was simple but imaginative and versatile, with three brightly-coloured moving
wooden huts transforming the stage from the child’s nursery into all
manner of different locations. There were bright, attractive costumes for the
young cast too.
The opera was sung in English, and the best individual performances came
from two fine tenors – medical student Hal Brindley gave a strongly
sung and charming account of Basilio’s sidekick Vivaldo, while
postgraduate linguist James Crawford gave an excellent characterisation of
the eponymous Camacho (really quite a minor role). Stephen Brown’s
Basilio and James Harrison’s Carrasco (Quiteria’s father) also
sang well; Håkan Vramsmo’s Sancho Panza was likeable and smoothly sung.
But elsewhere there were problems; Margaret Cooper’s Quiteria was
strong in the upper register but weak in the middle; her conventionally
operatic soprano was inadequately balanced by Sarah Rea’s treble-like
Lucinde. The veteran professional bass Deryck Hamon was seriously stretched
in the role of Don Quixote. Projection of dialogue was problematic for
professional and amateur soloists alike; sometimes the singing was inaudible
too. The chorus was excellent, but the biggest problem was the orchestra, an
amateur ensemble, whose timing and tuning were simply painful at times
despite Charles Peebles’s poised and well-phrased direction.
This is the fifth UC Opera production I have seen, some with high musical
standards. This was far from the best. Perhaps they will fare better in 2008
with Lalo’s Fiesque.
Ruth Elleson © 2007