Recently in Performances
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.
It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’
On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.
In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
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. . .