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.
16 Oct 2007
San Francisco stages triumphant Tannhäuser
At this point in his career David Gockley has no need to prove himself. He did that with awesome success as general director of Houston Grand Opera for 33 years, during which he made that company a front runner both on the American and international opera scenes.
Houston he set a record for world and American premieres and built a house - with both a 1000-
and 2000-seat theater that bespeaks the commitment of that oil-rich town to the arts. Indeed,
Gockley is the man who made opera grand in Houston and made the HGO a way of life in the
And when Pamela Rosenberg departed from the San Francisco Opera after six rather unfortunate
seasons, it was widely agreed that Gockley was the only person who could put the company
together again and restore it to the position of prominence that it had had for well over half a
century. Gockley arrived as SFO general director just before the opening of the 2006-2007
season and during that year he was largely the executor of plans made and laid by Rosenberg.
Thus it is in with the season that opened in September that Gockley’s presence is now clearly felt
in the Bay Area, and it is clear that he is doing even more than might reasonably have expected
of him in so short a time.
Gockley set out to make his mark with two productions: the world premiere of Philip Glass’
“Appomattox” and Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser, which opened on September 18 as his first
all-new staging at the SFO. And in choosing “Tannhäuser” as his signature piece, he has gained
the respect not only of his community, but of the larger opera world as well.
In an essay in the program book for the staging Gockley says that he chose Wagner’s “Italianate”
work to “make a statement on how a company views itself and what it thinks opera ultimately
is,” stressing further the necessity “to keep moving into the future just as we are rooted in
tradition.” Thus the new “Tannhäuser” is more than just one more “go” at the opera; the
production is something of a lab experiment that lets the public in on what Gockley has in mind
for the SFO. And there is hardly another work in the established repertory that presents the
challenge that Gockley sought - and found - in Wagner’s early and often revised work.
Despite those who would yoke the composer to his own 19th-century Bayreuth stagings, it was
Wagner who commanded: “Kinder, macht Neues!” - “Do something new, guys!” That Gockley
had those words in mind is obvious from the fact that 13 of 17 members of the cast made SFO
debuts in this “Tannhäuser,” and the same is true of five of the production staff - including at the
top director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown.
Vick, Brown’s frequent co-worker in Europe, speaks of the opera as a mix of “site-specific
Romanticism and open-ended symbolism,” a combination that sparks the creative imagination.
The two men see no need to move visually out of the Middle Ages, as was rather cutely done in
last season’s “Tannhäuser” at the Los Angeles Opera, where as the eponymous hero Peter
Seiffert cast his mini-harp aside and - clad in black tie and tales - sat down at an on-stage
Steinway to belt out his song of sensuous love.
That’s doesn’t make academic medievalists of Vick and Brown, for as the director explains, his
mission was to define the point at which “the content of the opera interacts with the world today”
in his quest for “a wilder, more mythic view.” And they found this by focusing upon the troubled
man that Tannhäuser is. Or as Vick puts it: “Tannhäuser’s problem is Tannhäuser.” Thus the
knightly minstrel is not torn between the sexual excesses of life on the Venusberg and a calmer
existence with virginal Elisabeth; he is rather the helpless victim of conflicting desires raging
Once the director opens the listener’s eye to this view, it is hardly surprising to realize that
Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung, those early explorers of the psyche, were born -
respectively - in 1856 and 1875, well before Wagner composed “Parsifal,” his last work, and then
died in 1882. Vick thus takes Tannhäuser on a turbulent stream-of-consciousness journey that
brings unusual fascination to the opera.
“It’s the story of the married man who has left his wife and gone to live with the other woman,”
says Vick. “But he can’t settle down with his mistress, so he returns to his wife, only to discover
that he can’t live with her either. “He loses out on all fronts and has a nervous breakdown.” Thus
Tannhäuser is not lured to destruction by woman, but by his own desire; he is struggling to find
fulfillment and integration of his own personal life.
Even at the penultimate performance of the season on October 7, the production was of
exuberant freshness. Peter Seiffert sang as if 20 years younger than he was in Los Angeles a year
ago, and Petra Maria Schnitzer, the Los Angeles Elisabeth, gave an inspired performance of her
“Prayer” aria. Petra Lang was an appropriately seductive Venus. Veteran bass Eric Halfvarson
seemed rejuvenated as the Landgraf. The show-stealer, however, was youthful James Rutherford
as Wolfram; his “Evening Star” will long shine in the memory. And Czech Stefan Margita —
Walther — is clearly a tenor worth watching. Ian Robertson, long chorus master at the SFO, had
his ensemble gloriously well prepared for both the arrival of the guests and “Pilgrims’” Chorus.
In Donald Runnicles the SFO has for 15 years had the services of one of the top Wagnerian
conductors of the day. Runnicles opted for the Paris version of the score with its expanded ballet,
which was choreographed by Ron Howell. While in this scene others today titillate the ageing
opera audience with a bit of soft porn, Howell took “Bacchanal” at face value and unleashed his
dancers upon the stage in a true state of Dionysian frenzy. It might not be ballet, but Howell’s
concept was totally in keeping with Vick’s approach to the story. Completing the cast, by the
way, was Alloy, a white quarter horse, who — handled by his owner Gary Sello — behaved
impeccably on stage.
This “Tannhäuser” leaves no doubt about it: the San Francisco Opera and David Gockley has
both made correct choices!