Recently in Performances
‘[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.
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.
20 Jan 2008
Deborah Voigt in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony
With her performance of the “Four Last Songs,” ably partnered by Michael Tilson Thomas and his San Francisco Symphony, Deborah Voigt emphatically confirmed her place as one of the glories of the current roster of Strauss interpreters.
We are perhaps familiar with a more usual “Liederabend” approach as
furthered by other celebrated sopranos -- you know, the often mewing, cooing,
hushed treatment of every fragile syllable
as-if-they-might-break-if-sung-too-operatically? Such studied wispiness was
little in evidence in Ms. Voigt’s renditions on January 10th. No wilting
violet she, Diva Debbie just flat out really sang ‘em all instead
of over-“interpreting” them. And oh, how she sang! With steady tone of
great presence in all registers and at all gradations of volume; with
generous, soaring, high-flying phrases; with delicate nuance and telling
detail; all of which was characterized by excellent diction and complete
Up against her seasoned Straussian standard then, the SFO was highly
competent if not quite equally successful in essaying this richly detailed
score. Oft times on past occasions I have wished this fine group of musicians
would coalesce into a single-minded band of thrilling music-makers, and often
as not I have found them a bit wanting in artistic vision and ensemble, no
more so than now as they confronted these lush, complex orchestral songs. If
history is a teacher, my past SFO experiences had perhaps taught me that
Maestro Thomas (or “MTT” as he is marketed locally) seems to draw
inspiration from superb soloists more than he appears to impart it routinely
to his players. That was certainly true of such past luminaries as Lang Lang
and Helene Grimaud, with whom he became a true collaborator, and with whom
the orchestra excelled. Here, MTT inexplicably seemed content to allow the
orchestra to be a somewhat aloof accompanist.
That said, there were some very fine orchestral moments to be sure, not
least of which was a peerless violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen,”
matched by an equally superb horn solo in “Im Abendrot.” (Indeed, the
horns were remarkably wonderful throughout the evening.) Having heard the
Vienna Philharmonic take on this score, the bar was set very high for me,
since those guys absolutely inhabit this music as a seamless ensemble. That
SFO would not be so seamlessly involved was foretold by the concert opener,
Knussen’s Third Symphony. It was dispatched with cool skill, but little
overt joy or passion, the very talented individual musicians shining if
somewhat independent. The Strauss merely continued that semi-detached,
And then something happened. Barber’s seldom heard “Andromache’s
Farewell” knocked us right between the eyes with a well-judged and
committed dramatic reading from our soprano, matched thrill for thrill by
expansive, virtuosic orchestral playing elicited by MTT’s fiery conducting.
(What, did this guy knock back a couple of Red Bull’s at intermission?)
The wonderful, under-valued soprano Martina Arroyo premiered the piece in
1963 to open the new Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. How enjoyable to
already encounter the vibrant palette of orchestral sounds and effects
(especially the exciting brass fanfares) that the composer would further
refine and put to good use a bit later in his “Antony and Cleopatra”
which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House.
“Andromache’s” dynamic score certainly deserves to be heard more
often. That is, if a dramatic soprano of Ms. Voigt’s bountiful gifts can be
found. It is an interesting and varied scena with well-calculated dramatic
tension; featuring a pleasing balance of signature Barber melodiousness and
parlando passages; and with some sure-fire, slam-bang, full-Geschrei money
notes that stir the soul and tickle the eardrums. And man, does our Diva ever
have those money notes! Million Dollar Baby, baby! It was a singular treat to
hear such a wholly realized, successful undertaking of this rarity.
After the prolonged ovation died down for the Barber, MTT then jumped
right into a Puckish reading of Beethoven’s Fourth with equally pleasing
results. Though it may not have the grandeur or gravitas of the “bookend”
Third and Fifth Symphonies, it was delightful nonetheless, especially in this
playful, inspired interpretation. My persistence in returning to Davies Hall
for yet another concert after those several disappointing near-misses was
amply rewarded this night, for now SFO was indeed not just “playing” but
truly “inhabiting” the music with abandon.
MTT was in his element, inspiring and charismatic, enjoying himself (and
Beethoven) so much that at a couple of points I was thinking he may just
break into some spontaneous Schuhplatten. The orchestra responded in kind
with flawless ensemble playing and sparkling, intricate solo work. (As Ed
Sullivan might say: “How about a hand for that bassoon player? C’mon!”)
The last stinging chord brought a rain of rousing cheers down on the
assemblage, probably not a usual response for the Fourth, which says a lot
for the dazzling magic that MTT and the SFO imbued on a piece of such gentler
After this exciting second half, representing the very best I have ever
heard from this bunch and rivaling any other orchestra in the world, I wanted
to shout “Dude, drink the Red Bull before Act One next time!” And for all
I know, MTT did. . .