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 Sep 2007
Aspen premieres forgotten Cavalli work
A husky baritone in Speedos on a motor scooter and a buxom, purple-wigged Dame Edna drag clone — the Aspen Opera Theater Company’s staging of Francesco Cavalli’s 1667 “Eliogabalo” was off to a start that promised to equal the program’s over-the-top staging of the composer’s 1649 “Giasone” two summers ago. (AOTC director Edward Berkeley raised the curtain on that Baroque potboiler to a biker Amor on a Harley.)
magnificent singing by a huge contemporary-clad cast and the superlative
musicianship of Cavalli scholar Jane Glover as conductor of a pocket-size
early-instrument ensemble the promise did not hold.
Advances on the production, plus two lengthy hand-wringing essays in the
Aspen program book, focused not on the opera, but on its seemingly mysterious
history. In brief: Cavalli, long the darling of his day in opera-mad Venice,
looked back on over 30 successes when “Eliogabalo” was all set for a
carnival-season premiere in the city. Then the work was not merely cancelled,
but replaced by an opera on the same decadent Roman emperor by Giovanni
Antonio Boretti. And to make the substitution still more painful to the aging
Cavalli his librettist Aurelio Aureli wrote a new text for Boretti. The
manuscript of “Eliogabalo” — sketches of a score, as was the habit in
that day of agile improvisation — was filed away in the Venice Marciana
Library and forgotten for over three centuries. Cavalli wrote another two
operas — both lost — and died in 1676.
“Eliogabalo” emerged from oblivion in 1998 when an edition of the
score by Roberto Solchi attracted the attention of Europe’s major master of
Baroque opera Rene’ Jacobs, who made it the basis of a staging at
Brussel’s La Monnaie in 2004. That production, essentially the world
premiere of the work, moved on to Innsbruck and Paris and was
enthusiastically celebrated by incense-burning critics throughout Europe.
Indeed, Opernwelt, Germany’s leading opera periodical, declared it
“the rediscovery of the year.”
It is impossible, of course, to compare the Aspen production with a
staging that one knows only from written reports; one feels, however, that
something was lost in crossing the Atlantic. Aspen was in no way behind
Brussels in scholarship. British-born Glover, in her fifth season as music
director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, wrote her dissertation on
Cavalli and published a book on him in 1978. And she undertook her own
realization of the edition of the score by Harvard’s Italian-born Mauro
Calcagno, another leading authority in the field.
The Aspen production was, to be sure, impressive in its solid musicianship
and in the work of a huge cast thoroughly schooled in Baroque vocal
performance practices. It did, however, not radiate the excitement that one
recalls from “Giasone,” and in outright fun it was light years behind the
staging of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 1745 “Platée” on stage at the Santa
Fe Opera this summer. Even armed with a detailed guide through the contorted,
convoluted and complicated plot and English titles it’s not easy to follow
the story of depravity, intrigue and perversion that “Eliogabalo”
As briefly as possible: Eliogabalo — in history the boy emperor
Heliogabalus who corrupted Rome from 418 to 422 — is aided by
co-conspirator underlings Lenia and Zotico in his quest for bedmates. Out to
seduce Gemmira, he orders the murder of his cousin Alessandro to whom she is
betrothed to achieve his goal. Five-watt-bulb Atilia is after Alessandro, and
boy-about-palace Nerbulone finds himself in the middle of this mess. In the
final act Eliogabalo is knifed offstage and — only the Baroque could manage
a happy end after so much senseless misery, and Alessandro, the new emperor,
is united with Gemmira and Eritea finds a mate in Giuliano.
Gender, of course, isn’t merely bent in Baroque stagings these days;
it’s thrown on the floor and stamped upon, and that allows the director
free choice of voices for a production. Yet director Edward Berkeley,
long-standing mastermind of opera at Aspen, might have gone off the deep end
in casting women in seven leading roles in “Eliogabalo.” That in itself
resulted in a lack of contrast that contributed to the tedium of the two
hour, 40 minute performance.
The lower register was thus left entirely to tenor Alex Mansoori, who
stole whatever show there is to steal as Dame Edna look-alike Lenia, and to
be-Speedoed baritone David Keck as court glamour boy. As the bi-sexual
cross-dressing title figure mezzo Cecelia Hall was appropriately louche in
both male and female attire, while soprano Christin Wismann brought happily
contrasting dignity to Alessandro. Ariana Wyatt’s brilliant soprano
combined with her natural beauty to make Gemmira a credible object for
Eliogabalo’s raging hormones, and business-suited Ellen Putney Moore
employed her dark-hued mezzo wonderfully to offer insight into Giuliano’s
Top vocal honors, however, went to Paris Hilton look-alike Carin Gilfry,
whose well-honed mezzo made Atilia credibly human. (The only moral being in
the cast was the white doggie that Gilfry carried.) Arthur Rotch’s
scaled-down ruin of a triple-arched Roman gate proved a perfect set for the
many on-stage machinations in “Eliogabalo,” and the superb 14-member
chorus brought additional color to the cross-dressing central to the
production. (Unusual in today’s Baroque stagings was the inclusion of only
one countertenor in the cast, and he was relegated to the chorus.)
Overall, however, the opening performance in Aspen’s historic Wheeler
Opera House on August 14 came across much more as a magnificently prepared
academic study than a knock-out evening at the opera. Rather than biting
nails about the possible injustice done Cavalli in the 1667 cancellation,
Aspen might better have considered that “Eliogabalo” was written at a
time when opera was in transition, moving from the largely through-composed
stile representativo of Monteverdi (presumably Cavalli’s teacher)
to the contrast between recitative and aria that was soon to be Handel’s
glory. The “star” singer was emerging, and both audience and artists were
eager for change. One returns to the conclusion that works residing in
oblivion are right where they belong.