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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.



Tania Kross (La Messagiera) and Jeremy Ovenden (Orfeo) [© DNO/Ruth Walz en Hans Hijmering]
05 Sep 2007

Netherlands Opera — New Wine in Old Bottles

The unmistakable fanfare that opens Monteverdi’s seminal L’Orfeo rang out from the top of the crowded foyer of the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam last Friday night to signal not only the start of the opera, but also the opening night of their celebratory 2007 Monteverdi Cycle.

Above: Tania Kross (La Messagiera) and Jeremy Ovenden (Orfeo)
All photos © DNO/Ruth Walz en Hans Hijmering


All three of Monteverdi’s great works — L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea are being given in this anniversary year of his ground-breaking leap forward for the art-form, along with three more minor works later in the season. However, this cycle can also be seen as a celebration of a rather more contemporary master, albeit one synonymous with Netherlands Opera itself as well as with the old master’s works, director Pierre Audi. What Audi does, particularly with these very early works, is to achieve the near-impossible: he takes an audience back to a time before time, to a place that might be no-place, but which communicates to us through visual textures and stage architecture that never confuses, always make sense. A set or prop may prompt an initial “I wonder why….”, but invariably the question is soon answered and we are the wiser for it. He is a director who illuminates, rather than obscures. On the downside, as he loves to use fire as exclamation points in his productions, giving us three of his operas on successive nights did rather devalue the currency: what, another explosion and burst into flaming torches? But that would be to quibble with the scheduling, not the pieces themselves. As would be to query the order of the weekend’s offerings: why not in chronological order rather than putting “Poppea” before “Ulisse”? Some reasons suggest themselves, and the noticeably emptier house on the final Sunday could be either cause or effect: “Ulisse” is certainly the least accessible and immediately engaging of the trio where even Monteverdi seems to struggle with the essentially static nature of the libretto.

All three of these productions are well known now around the world, and have been available on DVD for some time. The local opera-goers have also had several opportunities over the past 17 years to see them fine-tuned to their present state, so can their re-emergence be justified? Certainly it makes sense in this Monteverdi anniversary year, as we’ve seen elsewhere on both sides of the Atlantic, but productions of this quality have a second, even more important role. Netherlands Opera has always prided itself on the strength-in-depth of its ensemble singers and with these three pieces they shrewdly mixed in many of their younger talent with visiting big names and often gave them opportunities in more than one.

Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro (Arnalta) and Danielle de Niese (Poppea) [© DNO/Ruth Walz en Hans Hijmering]
Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro (Arnalta) and Danielle de Niese (Poppea)

L’Orfeo” is quintessential Audi where all three natural elements of earth, fire and water combine in sets of tangible solidity and exceptional beauty. They were matched by singing of a similar calibre with not a single disappointing voice on display — standouts being the experienced countertenor David Cordier as a ringing La Musica, Alan Ewing’s deeply expressive and mellifluous bass as Coronte and the two exciting younger voices of Tania Kross (La Messagiera) and Anders J. Dahlin (Pastore 1, Eco/Spirito). Tenor Jeremy Ovenden was giving his debut performance in the title role and if his vocal resources were occasionally tested by “Possente spirto”, with some rough edges here and there, overall it was a very satisfactory performance showing an expression and intelligence that will surely develop further.

One very positive aspect of the scheduling of all three operas on successive nights was the opportunity to contrast and compare several of the younger singers in different roles. Dahlin shone again in “Poppea”, his beautifully produced light lyric tenor floating serenely around the music of the first Soldier and Lucano, whilst the bigger names of de Niese, Mehta and Stotijn gave expressive and fully-rounded performances that didn’t disappoint. De Niese continues to extend her capacity to express the darker emotions and passions and there was less shrillness in her top, more gentle colour, than I have heard before from her. I doubt we have ever seen a more seductive or believable Poppea. Malena Ernman, one of today’s more versatile sopranos, seemed uncomfortable at times in the role of the despicable Nerone, her statuesque Nordic beauty rather at odds with the character’s requirements. She has a good range, although the gear-changes sounded less than smooth on Saturday night and it took most of Act 1 for her to settle vocally. By the final scenes she was entirely credible, even disturbing, in her vocal and dramatic commitment. Bejun Mehta, as the luckless Ottone, brought his usual assertive dark countertenor to the role with admirable effect, if not much fine-tuning of expression. Christianne Stotijn was deeply affecting as the wronged and vengeful Ottavia — her lovely chocolate tones could colour and caress the notes at will. Yet, it was another young singer new to this writer that perhaps left the strongest impression. The Chilean-born tenor Emiliano Gonzalez-Toro gave an outstanding and very promising performance as the comic/pathetic governess Arnalta, his final gorgeous lullaby to the sleeping Poppea a model of legato line and sheer vocal beauty. Let us hope his talent is nurtured and guided in the right direction.

All the singers were of course aided immensely by inhabiting Emi Wada’s amazing costumes. These works of art — no better term — could carry the opera on an empty stage and are rightly renowned. Textures that intrigue the eye, materials that merge from shade to shade in the changing lights, fabrics that shimmer and float. They evolve with the story, they almost become the story.

Paul Nilon [© DNO/Ruth Walz en Hans Hijmering]
Paul Nilon as Ulisse

Such heights of visual and musical delight are hard to follow and that is where the decision to place “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” at the end of the three works must be questioned. It is a much darker work, it comes well before “Poppea” in terms of composition, and although it has some lovely music, it is essentially much more static and almost entirely given over to examinations of the protagonists’ psychological states of mind whilst grappling with the whims of interfering deities. It needs the best singers, and luckily it mostly had them — in particular Paul Nilon in the title role, as expressive and idiomatic as ever, and totally convincing as the struggling hero. Here too, we had a chance to admire again other singers from earlier on: Ewing, Agnew, Cordier and Kross. And in particular the excellent Wilke te Brummelstroete as Minerva — with a searing soprano, crisply enunciated text and strong presence she lit up the stage most effectively. Matching Nilon in emotional vocalism was Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon as the grieving Queen Penelope, like the Englishman an experienced baroque singer. Her dark and silky tones revealed grief, anger and confusion with total surety. As so little happens dramatically for most of the story, Audi keeps his “big guns” for one major coup de théâtre when our hero pulls the bow to convince his queen who he is. Then, with a massive explosion of light, fire and thunderous noise the house shakes and any guilty “nappers” in the 15th row are rudely awakened. Then, gently and almost apologetically, the opera winds down again through the final, loving duet between husband and wife, back into darkness and quiet.

One final aspect of this trio of Monteverdian genius must be mentioned — Netherlands Opera invited three separate period instrument bands in to provide the music (although some players mixed and matched in at least two) and it was interesting to compare the approaches of each director/conductor. Stephen Stubbs and his Tragicomedia/Concerto Palatino took command of the “L’Orfeo”, Stubbs playing from both harpsichord and his best known instrument, the theorbo (chittarone). His other harpsichordist was none other than Christophe Rousset, making up the nine other continuo players. They were supported at dramatic moments by another 16 players of brass, wind and strings, including some outstanding playing of the difficult cornet by Bruce Dickey and Doron David Sherwin. This band offered subtle and virtuosic playing at the service of the drama. The next night it was Rousset in charge of his own Talens Lyriques for “Poppea”, only 14 in number but with a warm sound and obvious total familiarity with each other and the piece. Now Stubbs withdrew to lute/theorbo/baroque guitar and was matched in the continuo group by the likes of Erin Headley on viola da gamba and Stéphane Fuget on harpsichord and organ. On the final night the even smaller forces of Glen Wilson’s “Esxatos” tried to hold the musical interest of “Ulisse” but sadly failed to succeed entirely. Just eleven players was perhaps a risk too far for this medium sized house, and it must be said that although Wilson expended much energy and commitment to his singers from the harpsichord, the total sound world was pinched and meagre in comparison to the previous nights. Having said that, it is always a pleasure to see so many young players in these period groups and like the less experienced singers on the stage above them, they can only continue to stretch their skills with these magnificent stagings of Monteverdi.

© Sue Loder 2007

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