Recently in Performances
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.
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.
12 Nov 2007
Le Nozze di Figaro – Metropolitan Opera
Le Nozze di Figaro, in 1786, was the longest and most elaborate opera buffa ever composed and (though it is seldom given complete) is still the longest you are likely to see in the regular repertory.
There are so many
variables that a critic can easily find something to object to. A Countess
short of breath in “Porgi amor,” with which (no warm-up) she opens Act
II; a Cherubino too feminine for adolescent male outpourings; a Count
insufficiently virile for his masculine vanity (the engine that drives the
plot) to be credible; a Marcellina too young to be Figaro’s mother
(Beaumarchais turns Oedipus into farce here, showing how close
tragedy and comedy really are); a lackluster conductor; a “concept”
staging that ignores half the plot; an ugly set; an incompetent fandango or
leap from the window – there is always (as Gilda Radner would say)
something. Attending the Met’s Figaro in a year when few
world-famous names have signed on for it, the manipulator of the poison pen
whets his fangs in malicious anticipation.
At the matinee of November 10, the Met fooled me: until the last two
minutes of the staging (and then it was Jonathan Miller’s unaltered
original direction that let me down, not anything the performers did), Le
Nozze was as near perfect as you are likely to get, and none of those
obvious lapses occurred. Anja Harteros sang both the Countess’s arias
flawlessly and was, in addition, a radiant beauty whose neglect by any
husband puzzled everyone and made him look an oaf. She won the
ovation of the afternoon – even for one who missed the angelic quality Kiri
Te Kanawa brought to the Countess’s final lines of forgiveness. (The opera
– and buffo in general – is primarily about forgiveness for everybody’s
human imperfections – which is why the original, imperial audience found it
easy to overlook the revolutionary subtext.) Ekaterina Siurina, a plump
Russian tidbit, as Susanna sang a radiant “Deh vieni non tardar” and a
“Venite, inginocchiatevi” with the proper giggly bounce. Kate Lindsey is
a real find – her Cherubino looked like an adolescent boy, a very pretty
one to be sure but with an arrogant chin and a “street” sort of strut
that made this cocksure kid a credible threat to the older males. She sang
gloriously too. Marie McLaughlin made an ardent but not preposterous
Marcellina – for once one regretted the omission of her aria – and
Anne-Carolyn Bird, though a bit tall, sang a sweet Barberina.
Anja Harteros as the Countess
Among the men, Bryn Terfel naturally stood out in the title role. I did
not like his Figaro when the production was brand new – he seemed so
anxious to show what an actor he was that he huffed and puffed and groaned
and grimaced instead of singing; Mozart took a back seat to Beaumarchais. He
has calmed down considerably over the years, and though still a bouncing
buffo-man with plenty of time for comedy (if his pretence of jumping off the
balcony is not quite believable), he now sings the arias at a less frenetic
pace, with more of the elegance they require and reward. Simon Keenlyside
played the Count as an elegant fop, forever tossing his curls and pratfalling
on the polished floors, but this never interfered with his musical authority.
Maurizio Murano’s blowhard Bartolo, Greg Fedderly’s slithy Basilio, and
Patrick Carfizzi’s lumpish Antonio earned most of the day’s laughs.
Philippe Jordan is a young Swiss who conducts with zest and delight, as if
he wanted to grab you by the ears and prove this is a masterpiece with charms
you never suspected – hardly necessary with Figaro, but what I
mean is, he takes none of it for granted, he is thrilled by the music and
eager to share.
Ekaterina Siurina (Susanna), Bryn Terfel (Figaro) and Simon Keenlyside (Count)
And what did I object to about the conclusion? In the Met’s rush to get
the Countess into a new and glittery gown for the finale, no one has thought
(and Mr. Miller years ago did not think) to have her show the ring to the
Count, revealing to him that she is the mysterious lady he made love to in
the dark. The audience knows this, and Figaro and Susanna know it, but the
Count does not, and his heartfelt, aristocratic apology is inexplicable if he
doesn’t. The laws of farce are immutable: If you do not tie all the knots,
the machine unravels. It’s such an easy piece of business to fix – and so
satisfying when it’s fixed. Patch it up, Met.