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Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



Miriam Ryen as the Queen of the Night and Jennifer O’Loughlin as Pamina (Volksoper Wien, 1 May 2007)
30 May 2007

Die Zauberflöte at the Volksoper

Serpents, abduction, magic flutes, a sacred priesthood and, of course….love, are a few of the elements Mozart used to comprise his mason-influenced collaboration with Emanuel von Schikaneder.

W.A. Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Wiener Volksoper, 1 May 2007

Above: Miriam Ryen as the Queen of the Night and Jennifer O’Loughlin as Pamina


The Wiener Volksoper’s 2007 production of Die Zauberflöte is rich with visual effects, including a large mechanical dragon that emerges from the depths of the stage, a vibrant rotating set complete with “living” statues who are elevated high above the stage; a gargantuan telescope and fire set the scene for what was unfortunately a mediocre production, other than a few glimmering aspects.

The Overture was well-effected but somewhat mechanical and it lacked in the necessary colours and shading that Mozart’s music demands. Conductor, Elisabeth Attl seemed to have little influence over the orchestra that in some moments seemed to be just going through the motions. The three ladies, sung by Edith Lienbacher, Sulie Girardi, and Andrea Bönig looked fabulous in matching gowns and hats (and later clad in leather and tattoos) complete with walking canes, however their singing was often strident and in what should be a unified harmonic ensemble there were inconsistencies in unity.

Die Königin der Nacht (Queen of the Night) was eloquently sung by Miriam Ryen, who had a brilliant and laser-like upper tessitura and beautiful agility in her coloratura passages, however the orchestra often overpowered her and thus obscured her musicality. Her Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen was visually exciting with an electric red sky from which hung an enormous crescent moon. Some intonation problems affected her performance of this aria, that also lacked the tremendous rage that Mozart expected here.

Papageno was performed by Mathias Hausmann who possesses a lovely burnished baritone to match his consummate dramatic abilities. His Der Volgelfänger bin ich ja was not only amusing, but sung with much inflection and attention to detail. Unfortunately, the following entrance by Daniel Behle, as Tamino, left much to be desired. His Dies Bildinis ist bezanbernd schön lacked the brilliant sound that the aria requires and his acting was somewhat superficial throughout the opera. One wondered if he was really in love with Pamina or not.

Pamina’s entrance was visually wonderful, as she was dragged in by Monostatos (played by Wolfgang Gratschmaier) in a large net. American Soprano, Jennifer O’Loughlin’s Pamina was artistically beyond the rest of her cast. She effected every entrance with lovely spinning tones in a deep golden hue in her middle voice, and her musicality was well-suited to the lyricism Mozart demanded of a superb Pamina. The orchestra, however, was highly insensitive to Ms. O’Loughlin’s middle and lower registers and failed to match her musical nuances. A sensitive and believable actress, her Ach, ich Fühl’s es ist verschwunden was luscious and effected with impeccable diction, and well-floated pianissimi that give credit to her vocal technique.

Lars Woldt, in the role of the Sprecher, possessed a strong and well-projected voice, and his presence added to the overall dramatic impetus of the production. In addition, Kaiser Nkosi’s Sarastro opened Act II with strong dramatic and vocal qualities. His middle register was a lovely purple hue, however he lacked resonance in his lower tessitura, an unfortunate detail that affected the strength of Sarastro’s character.

Jennifer O’Loughlin and the Wiener Sängerknaben

Some of the most comical moments to which the audience responded belonged to Papageno and Papagena (comedically played alla Lucille Ball by Renée Schüttengruber). Complete with hot pink wig, and the whiniest fabricated voice, Papagena stole Papageno’s heart, and the audience’s as well. If anything stood out in this production it was the musicality and unity of the “Three Boys” who were played by the Wiener Sängerknaben. Mozart’s opera is imbued with many numerical elements in groups of three and these trios (the three spirits, the three ladies, and three priests in the temple) should be unified textually and harmonically. The three boys were perhaps the most precise musically and kudos go out to them for stealing the show. Although a visually interesting production, the orchestra often marred the musicality of the singers, and most bothersome was how members of the orchestra got up and left the pit during the opera and then returned to later, not only disturbing the dramatic action but also creating a general lack of continuity in the musical fabric.

Mary-Lou Vetere-Borghoff
PhD (ABD), M.A., Mus.B

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