Recently in Performances
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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
16 Aug 2007
Haydn’s L’Anima del Filosofo (Orfeo ed Eurydice) — A rare performance at Glimmerglass this summer, as part of their “Orpheus” 2007 Festival Season
On a cold winter’s day in Vienna, just before Christmas 1790, Mr. Haydn dined with Mr. Mozart for the last time.
Within a year the younger man would
be dead, and the older would be in London putting the finishing touches to an
opera that never saw the light of day in full public performance until, in
1951 it was staged in Florence with Maria Callas, Boris Christoff and Tygge
Tyggeson in the leading roles. This is just part of the strange story of an
opera that nearly never was, because although Haydn was fully paid in advance
for his version of the Orfeo and Eurydice legend by the London-based
impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, it became the victim of
politics and critical machinations that finally prevented it from opening at
Haydn was happy enough with the project (being paid in advance must have
helped) and described the libretto, by Carlo Badini, as “entirely different
from that of Glück’s”. What he didn’t say was that said Badini was
also famed for his destructive gossip and very influential critical writings
which could literally make or break a theatre’s reputation at that time. In
this writing of the famous tale, the story starts with Eurydice fleeing the
unwanted attentions of her father’s favoured suitor for her, and becoming
the focus of Orfeo’s love; however, by the end of Act One she is dead from
a snake-bite. The rest of the four acts concern Orfeo’s struggle to
retrieve her from Hades, his famous error, and in this version of the tale,
his eventual destruction by the Bacchae women, enraged by his avowed shunning
of women’s love following his final loss of Eurydice.
There were only 3 main roles in the opera that Haydn wrote — Orfeo,
written for leading tenor of the time Giacomo Davide who was described later
as possessing “a clear and flexible voice, with an extensive
falsetto”, Eurydice, sung by soprano Rosa Lops and the Genio (an
oracle/soothsayer figure) who was apparently to be sung by a not-very-good
castrato of the time, possibly one Signor Dorelli. Confusingly, by the time
the opera came to rehearsal, there was another role included in the MS —
that of Creonte, father of Eurydice. Sadly, despite getting to
dress-rehearsal, local politics prevented the King’s Theatre from opening
on time and Haydn never saw his opera open to the public.
It is no wonder then that this particular operatic version of the famous
myth fell into that huge abyss of “forgotten” works as the
late18th century geared itself up for the immense musical
developments on the horizon. Yet, it is a jewel of its time, with some
stunning music as well as dramatic vigour and this 2007 Glimmerglass concert
performance has been looked forward to for some time by those who remember or
have heard, either Callas in ’51, the 1967 live recording by Dame Joan
Sutherland and Nicolai Gedda at the Edinburgh Festival, or of course the more
recent revival by Cecilia Bartoli.
However, it was rather a disappointment to find that circumstances and
time constraints had yielded some pretty savage cuts here on the shores of
Lake Otsego. Michael Macleod, the new General and Artistic Director,
explained that he had been anxious to do something meaningful on the
traditional Sunday morning slot on Gala Weekend in this his first year at the
helm of the Festival Opera. What better than to maintain the ethic of
Glimmerglass and make more good music with a little known take on the myth,
and better still, a work by one of his great loves, Haydn? Sadly, the time
available between the 11 am start and the afternoon matinee at 3 pm of the
staged L'Orfeo by Monteverdi meant that the concert performance was
truncated with huge swathes of recitative removed. The story was moved on
succinctly but prosaically by an on-stage Narrator, and several arias also
What was left seemed more a showcase for soprano Sarah Coburn, an
opportunity this technically elegant singer took full advantage of. She sang
the arias of Eurydice and the Genio (the latter's big number “Al tuo
seno fortunate” being eerily reminiscent of Mozart's Queen of the
Night’s) with precision (mostly) and vocal poise. Not exciting, but
obviously well-read and produced with only fleeting glances at the score
before her. Equally effective was the baritone of young Corey Crider as
Creonte. Much less successful was the Orfeo of tenor Norman Shankle, who
appeared both nervous and under-prepared, his hands (and eyes) never far from
the printed music, and his production sounding unsure and tentative, at best.
This curate’s egg of a production was held together by some nice idiomatic
playing by the Opera Orchestra, with special mention going to the flutes,
under the shared batons of Antony Walker and Anne Manson.
Mr. MacLeod explained afterwards that the reason for the split duties for
the conductors was part of a process of selection for vacant post of the
Festival’s next Music Director. Whatever the reason, it was a rather novel
experience for the audience as the two conductors had two very different
styles, although it was hard to split them on the resultant sound.
The performance is repeated on the 19th August.
© Sue Loder 2007
For tickets (limited availability): Glimmerglass Opera Box Office
(607) 547-2255 and more information from the website: http://www.glimmerglass.org/Haydn.html