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‘[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.
07 Apr 2007
A bride for sale at the Baltimore Lyric
The latest offering from the Baltimore Lyric Opera was Bedrich Smetana’s sparkling comedy Prodana Nevesta (“Bartered Bride”), a little gem of Czech Romantic nationalism that one does not see live very often these days.
The occasion not only ensured a packed house at the premiere, but also drew attention of the local chapter of the Czech-Slovak Heritage Association. Its members, in national costumes, attended en masse, making for a colorful and slightly surreal theater lobby.
Among the production’s international cast, Dana Buresova’s Marenka appropriately enough turned out to be the true star of Smetana’s charming little village. The Czech soprano laughed, pouted, and schemed her way triumphantly through the evening, and fully deserved her standing ovation at the end of it. The singer’s voice was strong, pure, and even in all registers; it carried easily, and she even thrilled the audience with a couple of impressive – albeit not entirely necessary in Smetana’s score – high Cs. The only thing of which I could not quite approve in this Marenka was her taste in men, for between the two sons of the honorable Tobias Micha (portrayed honorably by Ukrainian-Canadian bass Alexander Savtchenko) I might have chosen the younger one. American tenor Doug Jones offered an engaging and endearing portrait of the stammering village fool Vasek, and in the process revealed not only a lovely lyric tenor voice, but a genuine comic gift. Meanwhile, contrary to my own expectations, I was not that impressed with the heavily advertised talents of the Czech tenor Valentin Prolat as Jenek. Prolat wowed the audience sufficiently in a couple of powerful scenes in which his strong high register was impressively on display; he acted well, and blended very sweetly with Marenka in the duets, but far too often his sound felt somehow “switched off,” making it difficult to be completely satisfied with his performance.
Despite at times sounding a little thin (particularly in the string section), the orchestra was excellent, conducted impeccably by yet another Czech import, Oliver von Dohnányi. Throughout the performance he kept good balance, asserting his presence but letting the singers dominate as they should in a score such as this one. The tour-de-force of an overture (those unfamiliar with the music should imagine the fugue from Zauberflöte mixed with Mendelssohn’s elves at three times the speed) was particularly impressive – vigorous and energetic, yet clean and rhythmically precise.
Rheinhard Heinrich’s décor took a fold-out children’s book as inspiration, creating a set of white-and-brown cardboard dollhouses (with removable front walls allowing one to see their interiors) that were “folded” in and out throughout the performance in full view of the audience. Unfortunately, this clever and efficient design proved much too bulky for the small stage of the Baltimore Lyric, which made for an uncomfortably crowded marketplace with close to forty choristers on stage trying (not always convincingly) to approximate a polka. The Act 2 furiant turned out much better, as the space dilemma was resolved by sidelining the chorus and leaving what was left of center stage to three pairs of professional dancers.
The stage director, James McNamara evidently found The Bartered Bride, a slow-moving number opera, to be a challenge, and his approach was somewhat a stylistic mixture. Most scenes were staged realistically and packed full with stage business, perhaps too aggressively at times (e.g., while distraught Marenka was pouring out her heart into an opening “Where are you from?” aria, oblivious groom-to-be Jenek busied himself with first breaking and then fixing a wooden stool he had first conveniently dragged out of a nearby house). Meanwhile, several key numbers for the principals were presented as cinematic close-ups, with lights dimmed, soloists spotlighted (Jenek’s Act 2 aria was even performed in front of the lowered curtain), and “stage realism” suspended in favor of slightly old-fashioned symbolism, Hollywood-style. Not that the staging solution for each specific scene was necessarily unsuccessful (although I do take exception to the Act 3 sextet – a comic family disagreement made to project supernatural terror), but at times I found myself wishing that the director would just make up his mind.
To the audience, however, one of the most memorable moments in the whole production was undoubtedly the circus scene. Taking cue from the geographical provenance of the Indian and the fake grizzly bear, McNamara decided to turn the entire troupe, introduced by the (deliberately?) out-of-tune trumpet fanfares, into a Wild Wild West show. The Circus Master, sporting a Texas accent and a cowboy hat, resurrected for this occasion the spoken dialog tradition from the first version of Smetana’s score, although I doubt that the text of his opening announcement would have been recognized by the composer. Among other things, everyone in this original-language production were suddenly speaking English, including the chorus that reacted with evident comprehension to the Circus Master’s advertisement, and Vasek who during his comic attempts to woo the dancer Esmeralda somehow managed to lose his Czech if not his stammer. The public was treated to a parade of jugglers, acrobats, clowns on stilts, a grunting Indian, a bearded lady weightlifter, and a badly trained but brightly costumed dog (yes, a real one) that jumped through one large hula hoop, missed the other, but would have its chance at a curtain call nonetheless...
After a fashion, the misadventures of the circus mirrored the fortunes of the larger show of which it was a part. The bride was sold with some panache, a few unfortunate accidents, and some questionable decisions that warranted raised eyebrows from the purists such as myself. Yet, at the end of it all, Baltimore Lyric did manage to put on a good show – and fundamentally, a good show is what opera production is all about.