02 Mar 2008
Mary, Queen of Scots (Maria Stuarda)
San Diego Opera apparently has raided the vaults of Lincoln Center opera companies, circa the 1970s.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[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 Threshold”.
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 performance!
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.
San Diego Opera apparently has raided the vaults of Lincoln Center opera companies, circa the 1970s.
The company opened the season with a rebuilt staging of the Metropolitan Opera's Tannhauser production from that era, and for their second production, they figuratively crossed the square for Ming Cho Lee's sets for Donizetti's Maria Stuarda (which San Diego Opera insists on calling Mary, Queen of Scots). The San Diego audience audibly appreciates a decent traditional staging, and even though Ming Cho Lee basically dressed up a spare uni-set with just a shift of platform here and a moody back drop there, the curtain for act one, scene two (after the first of two intermissions) drew a round of applause from the audience. The three scenes of act two came after the second intermission, and each necessitated the dropping of the curtain for a scene change, letting at least some of the drama evaporate. Perhaps a lighting cue would get the audience to shush before the conductor (the reliable Edoardo Müller) brought down his baton to resume the music.
Quibbles aside, San Diego Opera deserves an opera lover's gratitude for putting on Donizetti's historically corrupt but very entertaining spin on the sad fate of Mary. Admittedly, the opera's structure lacks a compelling narrative drive. In the first scene, Elizabeth the queen gives into the request of the Earl of Leicester to meet the imprisoned Mary, only because the Queen is smitten with the Earl. In scene two, Mary exults at a brief taste of freedom in the assigned meeting place. However, her pride will not let her humble herself before Elizabeth, and in one of opera's surprisingly rare cat fights, curses are soon flying through the air between the two ladies. This seals Mary's fate, of course, but the long second act drags it out unmercifully, although when the final scene finally takes the audience to the execution chamber, the opera's best music follows.
Kate Aldrich as Elizabeth started the show gunning her engines, and if her character didn't disappear after the first scene of act two, might have totally eclipsed Angela Gilbert's Mary. Aldrich sang out with vehement gusto, easily encompassing the role's vocal range. She had the fire for the confrontation scene and the dejected regret when she realizes the man she loves is in love with Mary. Gilbert took a while to warm up. Her chief vocal strength is her top, which she can float quite beautifully. But it is more of a technical feat than an artistic one, and the middle of the voice too often dropped under the orchestral fabric. That being said, Gilbert hit her stride in the long final scene, finding just enough color to hold the audience though the rather anti-climatic set pieces.
Reinhard Hagen's sturdy bass worked well in making a sympathetic Talbot, who tries to support Mary in her suffering. Andrew Greenan, as the "bad guy" Lord Cecil, urged on the audience's boos at curtain, knowing well that they indicated the success of his performance. In the tenor role of the Earl of Leicester, Yegishe Manucharyan pushed his attractive lyric voice to meet the occasionally forceful demands of Donizetti's writing, with intermittent success. A vertically challenged tenor in the classic mode, Manucharyan as costumed often looked as if he were the adolescent prey of two middle-aged female predators.
Word is that at the Metropolitan Opera, Peter Gelb has plans to revive not only this opera but the other two in Donizetti's "Three Queens" trio. After the rapturous applause that followed this San Diego performance of Mary, Queen of Scots, perhaps General Manager Ian Campbell will consider beating the Met to the punch.