Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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. . .