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.
16 Jan 2008
A New Hansel und Gretel at the Met
Wagner’s all-conquering chic made apocalyptic music-dramas drawn from folklore the ideal of the nationalistic era; every serious opera composer of the time felt obliged to attempt something in that line.
Ironically, the only
one of these faux-Wagnerian epics that became (and remained) a popular hit
was Humperdinck’s 1893 setting of a Grimm fairy tale, which achieved the
perfect union of tunes kids could appreciate (and even sing themselves — he
wrote them for his sister’s children) and orchestral method that savors of
Meistersinger. Hansel und Gretel makes use of Wagnerian
counterpoint without all those embarrassing Wagnerian emotions, both immoral
and illegal — Hansel and Gretel do not go running joyously into an amorous
Gertrude (Rosalind Plowright) and Peter (Alan Held)
In the present era, when children imagine themselves too sophisticated for
fairy-tale kitsch (though they still love it in the right circumstances, and
the old Met production was perfect of its kind), when they are raised on
sarcastic cartoon banter and an After-School Special level of squalor, it
seems that the presentation of Hansel und Gretel must modernize too.
Hence the new Met staging, borrowed from the Welsh National Opera with a
number of Brit trappings, such as a Witch in drag out of panto. The titular
children, when we meet them, resemble shell-shocked raggedy dolls, listless
and starving on oversized chairs in a low-rent kitchen. Later they fall
asleep in a forest that resembles a very large dining room (terrific
scary-forest wallpaper out of a Maurice Sendak tale and nightmarish waiters
with branches for heads), dreaming not of angels but of Pillsbury doughboy
chefs. The Witch lives in an industrial kitchen suitable to a summer camp and
appears (in Adam Klein’s delicious performance) to be doing Julia Child and
Dame Edna in tandem. Papa probably drinks and Mama is haggard from overwork
(we are plainly dealing with latchkey kids here), and the dreams are not of
Godly salvation but of gaudy desserts.
Hansel (Alice Coote), Gretel (Christine Schaefer) and Chefs/Angels
There’s a lot of good fun on the stage — what kid won’t snicker at a
grown man in drag? — but will this do for holiday resurrection year upon
year, as the fairy tale staging did? Or will once or twice do it? And will
the kids have nightmares from those tree-waiters? I did. A friend of mine
encountered a subway car full of kids after one of the special matinees of
this production, and much as they’d loved the witch, the enormous
machine-propelled Mouth that invites our heroes into her house was not their
idea of fun.
The Witch (Adam Klein)
There is a lot of good Wagnerian melody coming from the orchestra under
Vladimir Jurowski and a lot of good singing from the soloists, and the
staging ideas, if they don’t all make sense, pass the time entertainingly.
The Sandman (Sasha Cooke), Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)
The piece is performed in an updated translation that sometimes fights with
the old-fashioned music, and Christine Schaeffer as Gretel, the only singer
in the cast who was not a native English-speaker, had some problems getting
her words across — but that’s what subtitles are for. She and Alice Coote
(a fine Sesto and Octavian — will I ever see the charming Ms. Coote in a
girl’s role?) produce clear, reliably sexless vocal lines — these two
proto-Wagnerian characters must carry over a Wagnerian orchestra with
apparent childish ease — and they had fun mingling the demands of the
libretto with moves borrowed from modern video. Rosalind Plowright looked
like a harried denizen of Coronation Street, but the mother’s role is by no
means a simple one, and she sang it effectively. Alan Held filled the theater
with impressive vigor as the father — it was no surprise after this
performance to learn he is preparing Wotan for the D.C. Ring
The Dew Fairy (Lisette Oropesa)
Lisette Oropesa sang the Dew Fairy sweetly in hotel chambermaid drag. In
short, the piece came off, the Witch got her madcap laughs (we all liked the
paper sleeves she placed on Hansel’s wrists and ankles before baking), and
there was joy to share. What more does one ask of this opera? Magic?
Of genuine magic there was only one moment all night: the aria of the
Sandman, as sung by Sasha Cooke of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists
Program: a light, clear voice, seemingly tiny but produced so that it easily
filled the house and fell on each ear like fairy dust, a subtle staging that
was, for once, not an intrusion but a rare visit from the atmosphere of Grimm
to a corrupted world.