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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.



Mahatma Gandhi
22 Apr 2007

Satyagraha at ENO

Philip Glass’s 1980 work, new to the London stage, gives an illustrated account of Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, viewed through the eyes of his satyagraha philosophy of peaceful resistance.

Philip Glass: Satyagraha
English National Opera, 13 April 2007

Click here for Satyagraha mini-site.


Assembled from selected phrases of the Baghavada-Gita by librettist Constance de Jong, the opera was performed here entirely in unsurtitled Sanskrit, contrary to ENO’s “everything in English” policy. Presumably the thinking was that if a native English speaker chooses to write an opera in the language of the subject matter, then keeping the original language is key to preserving the integrity of the piece. In fact the entire libretto consists of just eighteen paragraphs of text, so along with the undulating repetitiveness of the score, each scene seems to hang entranced in mid-air. The work is, after all, a sequence of vast portraits of the promotion of passivity, rather than a living drama. A synopsis was supplied in the programme; however it provided context rather than actual plot.

The giant curved structure of the set was used to represent something between a holy book and a political memoir, by means of projected text and textual ornament which turned it from a corrugated-iron wall into an illuminated page. To this and the blank canvas of Glass’s music, the performance-art group Improbable brought their stunning brand of performance art, stilt-walking, aerobatics and puppetry. Scattered news pages and swathes of tape were formed into giant moving creatures, gods and political figures, then evaporated into air just as quickly. Hindu gods fought one another; giant grotesque figures walked amongst the buildings of a more modern world. And still the musical inertia continued.

Even within its stylistic context (that is to say, assuming that as an audience member one can absorb such a lengthy musical work where very little happens) the piece itself has structural failings, most noticeably the hole created by an over-long instrumental interlude preceding Gandhi’s Prayer in the third act.

The singing was of an exceptional standard almost throughout. Besides Alan Oke’s sincere, other-worldly tenor in the focal role of Gandhi, a large share of the credit should be given to conductor Johannes Debus and to ENO’s terrific chorus, particularly the men, who exhibited impressive rhythmic control as Act 2’s collective voice of complacent greed. Most of the principal cast were company regulars, although in her ENO debut as Miss Schlesen, the Greek-Australian soprano Elena Xanthoudakis made a hugely positive impression, with a secure purity to her meaty top notes. Indeed there were few vocal weaknesses — Jean Rigby’s Mrs Alexander had problems making herself audible, and Janis Kelly’s Mrs Naidoo experienced some intonation problems in her duet with Anne-Marie Gibbons’ Kasturbai.

This staging is a co-production with the Met, where it will be presented this time next year – and like ENO’s last Met collaboration (Anthony Minghella’s cinematically beautiful Madama Butterfly in 2005) is a visually breathtaking piece of theatre. Glass’s score, on the other hand, is more of an issue. It certainly creates a powerful atmosphere — but at over three hours of scales and repeated phrases, and with no character interaction or dialogue, can it even be thought of as an opera?

Ruth Elleson ©2007

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