Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
18 Dec 2007
Belfast welcomes a first-rate Messiah
If Belfast in Northern Ireland isn’t a city that immediately springs to mind as a centre of musical excellence then it’s not for want of talent, initiative and professionalism within its cultural community.
It is also a
city busy re-inventing itself after decades of internecine strife and is now
buzzing with the optimism and investment that is part of the “peace
dividend”. At a time of year when many cities in the UK and USA are
churning out moderate and sometimes frankly embarrassing renditions of
Handel’s great work it was a delight to see last Saturday night that the
Ulster Orchestra, under the forward-thinking guidance of Chief Executive
David Byers, had invited a top flight international conductor with excellent
baroque credentials to meld the undoubted talents of its musicians and chorus
with some world class soloists.
Martin Haselböck holds the titles of Vienna Court Organist (shades of
Hapsburg splendour there) and Professor of Organ at the University of Vienna,
but it is his work throughout Europe and the USA (he’s recently been
appointed Music Director of the baroque “Musica Angelica” in Los Angeles)
as a conductor of baroque opera and orchestras that he is best known perhaps.
With just a couple of days of rehearsal with a slimmed-down Ulster Orchestra
and Belfast Philharmonic Choir under Christopher Bell, he obviously gelled
most satisfactorily with both, as on both nights before full houses there was
evidence of like minds working together to produce a nimble, but supremely
eloquent rendition of this iconic work. The modern instrument orchestra
played with great Handelian style and flourish without ever over-doing the
baroque gesture, whilst the choir was almost immaculate in both intonation
and ensemble, with special mention going to the alto section for a
particularly creamy tone. No fuzzy diction in the faster passages, crisp
enunciation throughout, and a sense of true pleasure in singing came though
loud and clear. Messiah is a wonderful platform for solo excellence, but it
stands or falls by the quality of its less starry musicians, and Ulster has
every reason to be proud of its achievements here – they stand comparison
with many higher-profile European ensembles.
With this sort of solid musicianship behind them, it was inevitable that
the soloists would have to shine and really live up to their individual
billings and we were not disappointed, although on the second night there was
perhaps a slightly less ebullient start to proceedings.
Young British tenor Benjamin Hulett is, like his colleagues Deborah York
and David DQ Lee, now based in Germany and his warm, agile voice has been
noticed there in a range of baroque and classical repertoire. At the
Waterfront Hall last night his ease of production was particularly noticeable
in the Part Two recitatives and arias such as “Behold and see if there be
any sorrow” with some lovely unforced high notes being balanced by darker
The one singer in the group who might be termed non-specialist in the
baroque was the American baritone Randall Scarlata. However, he had no
trouble in fitting into this sound world and indeed demonstrated a similar
degree of agility in the coloratura as his colleagues, plus showing some
impressive colouring and expression in the more passionate arias, “Why do
the nations so furiously rage together” being a prime example.
With the first alto aria “But who may abide” the Belfast crowd got
their first taste of the highly promising young countertenor David DQ Lee,
who made such an impression this year in the BBC’s Cardiff Singer of the
World competition. Just a couple of weeks previously they had enjoyed the
more mature talents of Germany’s Andreas Scholl, and in the young
Canadian-Korean’s voice local informed opinion found a fascinating
comparison to enjoy. Lee’s instrument is more in the modern American
tradition of countertenor vocal production, with a warmer, more full-blooded
sound than the English/Germanic one, and his operatic experience to date
appears to colour his interpretations of these classic alto/mezzo arias,
although always with good taste and refinement of line and ornament. Some
elegant phrasing and soft, exquisitely-held cadential notes in “He was
despised” were particularly impressive.
Deborah York’s Handelian credentials are well known and respected
worldwide and if we have heard her less frequently in the UK recently, it is
more due to her present residence in Berlin than any lack of demand within in
these shores. Her bell-like, almost vibrato-free, soprano is not particularly
large, but it has the ability to ping to the farthest corners of a big house,
and the 1800 seats of the Waterfront held no terrors for her. She sang “I
know that my redeemer liveth” with a particularly glistening tone and was
an intriguing contrast to Lee’s more vibrant one in the duet “He shall
feed his flock”.
With music and singing of this standard, Belfast and the Ulster Orchestra
are up there with the best in Europe and America and Handel was well-served
Sue Loder © December 2007