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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Angelika Kirschlager
04 Feb 2008

Awesome Angelika Again

While I eagerly seized upon an opportunity to hear Angelika Kirschlager live for the first time, having written in very recent weeks about not one but two of the star mezzo’s current CD releases, I ventured to Frankfurt’s Alte Oper feeling a little bit like her stalker.

Above: Angelika Kirschlager


Appearances be damned, I simply could not pass up the chance to experience first hand a glorious voice deployed by an impeccable artist. I was the richer for the journey.

For this was not just any-old-concert of crowd pleasing arias by a much-recorded and marketed glam diva with a competent orchestra being paced by a conductor-as-time-beater. No, the program featured no less than Berlioz’ wonderfully complex and seldom-heard “Les nuits d’ete” and the band was none other than the luminous Kammerorchester Basel, led with insight and conviction by Paul McCreesh. This highly skilled musical ensemble proved a real partner in the total success of the program.

That Ms. Kirschlager is a treasurable recording artist with a rich and gorgeous tone was well known to me. Already an admirer, I was still not fully prepared for the scope of dynamic variations, the detailed musical observations, and the utterly secure vocal technique at both extremes of her range that she effortlessly commands. These six songs are anything but an “easy sing.” From the sprightly tune of the “Villanelle” to the moodiness of “Le spectre de la rose” and the haunting despair that creeps into “Au cimitiere” and “L’ile inconnue,” there is virtuoso singing (and playing) required throughout.

For not only the vocal line, but also instrumental solo lines are often fragmented, halting, and rangy in tessitura and volumes. It is a supreme challenge to make phrases, songs, and the whole shebang hang together, much less make it musical and meaningful. It is to the great credit of the singer, conductor, and the entire ensemble that they took us on a most compelling journey through each of these six pieces, by turns joyous, grief-stricken, questioning, and uplifting. Quite a range of shifting moods, that.

Everything about Ms. Kirschlager (save her exceptional talent) strikes me as untemperamental, unfussy, and unaffected. She appeared looking lovely in a modest black gown with little adornment, very light make-up, and a simple coiffure. She seems content to let the music emanate from within and provide all the glamor needed, indeed to be the evening’s raison-d’etre.

If she seemed ever so slightly uncomfortable on the platform at first, perhaps she was indisposed. Although never noticeable in her music-making, she turned upstage and let forth with some good throat-clearing coughs after songs three, four and five. And there was no hint of an encore to be offered.

She did use the music, which kept her eyes diverted to the music stand a fair amount of the time. While this did somewhat limit her contact with the audience, it did not really diminish her very real achievement communicating these musical jewels. For she was always totally in command of the material, scoring every musical and emotional moment. Surely she is going to either record these songs, or perform them again, or both. Her stylish rendition would be a most welcome addition to anyone’s CD collection.

Singing in clear, idiomatic French, I did sometimes wonder if it was wise to let final (unvoiced in normal speech) syllables go off the voice. Or to use an injected breathiness fairly frequently on selected syllables as a device for dramatic effect. Or to use the occasional backward-placed French “r.” I was seated very close and lost nothing, but I wondered how that might be telegraphing to the further reaches of the house.

But these are very very minor points that are mere blips in a wholly successful performance by a very major artist. In the flesh, Angelika Kirschlager exceeded all the high expectations that I had been promised by that first recital CD gift a friend sent me some years ago. I will assuredly not wait so long before I seek her out again.

The program framed the Berlioz with two staples of orchestral literature. The opening overture from Weber’s “Oberon” was as heady and jauntily played as I have ever heard it, while the second half consisted of the evergreen selections from Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

I honestly thought about leaving at intermission, having been quite sated by the Berlioz, but damn if I’m not glad I stayed. These pieces are popular for a reason, and no recording could do justice to my first-ever live experience with them, in which I realized a whole palette of orchestral colors and minute detail I never noticed before.

The Kammerorchester Basel is a truly fine group of players, not only technically accomplished, but (are you seated?) they are a group of professional musicians who seem to radiate a joy of playing. They brought real freshness and delight to these oft-played warhorses, yes, even (maybe especially) the Wedding March, which was marked by expansive exuberance.

The audience responded in kind with a prolonged ovation that prompted an encore, the very short “Elf’s Dance” from the same composition. Maestro McCreesh was excellent throughout in coaxing results from his orchestra, but here he turned positively playful, and with the two “false endings” turned each time to the crowd with a look of “ya think it’s over?” and then quickly turning back to conduct again. In a final tweak, the violists sprung to their feet to saw away at their penultimate tremolo, and the whole evening concluded with panache.

On a side note: Even though it was a winter Monday, it was distressing to see the hall only half full at best. The large top ring was closed off entirely and unlit, but still this was a decidedly poor showing for artists of this caliber. Time was when this Pro Arte orchestra series was so heavily subscribed that it was hard to get in. Are times changing that much?

James Sohre

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