Recently in Performances
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’.
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.
07 Jul 2007
Love and death among battlements
In 2003, at Cagli’s Accademia del Teatro, Elisabetta Courir directed a compelling Così fan tutte, minimalist, sophisticated and low-budget; quite unlike Daniele Abbado, whose Lohengrin for Bologna’s Teatro Comunale integrated “hard” scenery, video projections and historically informed costumes into a dream-like pageant.
Yet both stagings
had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original
dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare
In fact, both young directors have one more common feature, since their
fathers Duilio Courir and Claudio Abbado rank among Italy’s shining stars
— in music criticism and in conducting, respectively. Being born into the
trade at such top levels may rather work as a hindrance, at least when a
budding professional is determined to build his/her own independent career
without relying on family connections. Ms Courir is one such case, having
debuted in opera direction relatively late in 1994 with an appreciated
staging of Vivaldi’s Tamerlano at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico,
at the age of 30 and after diverse experiences in spoken drama.
Actually, most of her educational curriculum pointed towards opera. The
10-year girl who used to sing in the children’s choir at La Scala grew up
to study music at the Scuola Civica di Milano, alongside humanities, theater
and musicology at the State University in the same town. For a period, she
even took singing lesson from the vocal scholar Rodolfo Celletti, also
attending the masterclasses held at Fiesole (Florence) by Walter Blazer, the
well-known teacher from the Manhattan School of Music. As to direction, she
apprenticed with such masters as Dario Fo and Luca Ronconi — but
particularly Egisto Marcucci, noted for his rigor, discrimination of, and
in-depth research on, texts, whether sung or spoken.
Courir’s latest opera staging, Verdi’s Il trovatore,
generally counts as popular fare; however, her reading thereof appears
unconventional, aristocratic and upstream — starting right from its
location: an outdoor arena at Vigoleno, soaring high on the green hills
between Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley. The castle and hamlet of
Vigoleno, built in its present form during the 1390s, was a meeting point for
the culturati during the 1920-30s. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Max Ernst, Jean
Cocteau, Artur Rubinstein among Europeans, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks
and Elsa Maxwell from the USA; all were guests here at the duchesse
de Grammont’s, born princess Maria Ruspoli (incidentally: from the same
family who offered lavish hospitality to young Handel in Rome).
The castle itself, with its towers, battlemented walls and gates, provided
a hyperrealistic backdrop to a plot set in no less than two castles in Spain
during roughly the same age: Aljaferia and Castellor. Light years far from
the current trend of European opera direction, where the setting would be
typically a dilapidated industrial plant, a garage, a gay bar, a spacecraft
or whatever else. Tall wooden boards, all crooked and scorched, served as a
camouflage for covered bays were patrols were doing their rounds. A
drawdbridge suspended over a dark gulf was alternatively the springboard
whence Manrico was expected to launch his treacherous high Cs in “Di quella
pira” and the stairway plunging into the dungeon “where the State
prisoners languish”. Less blacksmiths than dyers, the Gypsies hanged out
the garish product of their industry from virtual battlements mirroring the
real ones, or celebrated and sung by torchlight while squatting down in
circles around certain disquieting cauldrons. Tribal and gloomy with a shade
of the Orient — such was the medieval Spain conjured up by Courir and her
team: set designer Guido Fiorato, costume designer Artemio Cabassi and
Fiammetta Baldiserri in charge of lighting.
Within that (basically reliable, yet never archaeologic) framework, bodies
shaped their passions in the mould of unavoidable melodrama. The lecherous
Count attained by bitter qualms of conscience in the end; Leonora a
compassionate Madonna in light-blue train; Manrico a greyish bachelor,
moonstruck by misfortune and clearly a noble born-looser. Azucena towered
throughout in her fiery red gowns, as young and sexy as possible. Rather than
Manrico’s mother, she looked like his paramour, while a manly Ferrando kept
jerking her with ill-conceived desire. Side characters, nuns, warriors,
courtiers and sundry extras navigated smoothly, then suddenly disappeared
behind the boards. Perfect clockwork and grand opera on a grand scale, though
with limited means.
The junior singing company was enough well-matched (a crucial requirement
for Il trovatore), with baritone Claudio Sgura getting the best
applause for both his vocal qualities and sensitive acting. Rachele Stanisci
(Leonora) has her strongpoint in agility, as Laura Brioli (Azucena) in sheer
power; yet a more restrained vibrato during their forte passages would not
spoil. As Manrico, the experienced tenor Renzo Zulian sounded strangely
fatigued and/or unhappy with his upper register, probably due to a
last-minute stand-in for an ailing colleague. Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini
and Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, both emerging ensembles, were led
by Massimiliano Stefanelli with unrelenting pulse, despite a troublesome
acoustic environment. Outdoor venues have their pros and cons, particularly
during a windy early Summer as this is proving to be.