Recently in Performances
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
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.
04 May 2008
La Fille du Régiment at the Met
When the Met presented La Fille du Régiment for Lily Pons during World War II, she sought permission to wave the Cross of Lorraine, symbol of Charles de Gaulle’s Free French, during the Salut à la France in Act II.
The Met management opposed the idea (what next? setting operas in
contemporary costumes?), but Pons was a diva of the old school, impossible to
discipline or embarrass — she knew the wartime audience would roar and that
Met General Manager Edward Johnson wouldn’t dare reprimand her. As for the
opera — if a diva is cute and funny and has the high notes (Pons, we hear,
scored on all three counts — so, in my own experience, did Sutherland and,
at least in early years, Sills), then nothing can go wrong: Donizetti’s
vehicle is a ’54 Chevy, handsome, unpretentious and unbreakable. Fill ’er
up with high octane and she’ll take you where you want to go.
Too, since Pavarotti revealed the opera as a tenor vehicle as well, the
boys get to share the limelight, and for the last few years (at least since
Hermione Gingold began to camp it up — recent entrants include Montserrat
Caballé at Covent Garden), the two-line speaking role of the Duchess of
Krakenthorp has expanded like an accordion to become a major player. At the
Met these days, Marion Seldes gets two scenes and two outfits, as many
costumes as the prima donna.
Having heard last Saturday’s broadcast (full of audience giggle), I went
to the Met’s new production of La Fille (shared with Covent Garden
and Vienna) expecting to lean back and enjoy myself, and I did. So, as far as
I could tell, did everyone else in the packed house. First of all, there’s
the irresistible Donizetti fable, full of sentimental regret (during the
reign of pacific Louis-Philippe) for the days of Napoleonic gloire,
with march-time send-ups and regimental ditties (what does “rat-a-plan”
mean? It’s not in my Larousse), as well as sentimental
numbers that almost play themselves — the duet where Tonio and Marie
“prove” their love to each other’s exacting specifications, the
delicious trio of old comrades, “Tous les trois réunis” — all
of it melodious, hilarious, touching by turns, a musical with good singing
and no agonized American idols. La Fille couples lack of pretension
with Donizetti’s deft, professional hand at achieving exactly what he wants
to achieve: the characters do not surprise us — they’re much too
straightforward for that — but they’re worthy of the happiness they want,
and our hearts are warm when they get it.
Laurent Pelly’s production has a backdrop concocted by Chantal Thomas
from nineteenth-century European maps that form a mountainous Tyrolean
landscape on which Juan Diego Florez (who grew up in the even steeper Andes,
right?) takes an occasional pratfall while otherwise twirling like a
curly-headed Fred Astaire in lederhosen. If the guy, lately married in the
cathedral of Lima, loves his new bride half as much as he loves cutting up
for 4000 strangers she’s a lucky woman.
Natalie Dessay is charming when singing showpiece roulades while ironing
longjohns, when advancing on the enemy while seated on the floor in a
doll-like position, when striding about the stage with robotic gestures —
the same gestures and movements that tickled us when she played Olympia in
Hoffman and Zerbinetta in Ariadne. But the constant
mugging, intentionally or not, distract from imperfect fioritura and
breathless concluding notes, indeed from vocalism — you have to force
yourself to pay attention to the singing to notice it is being done at all. I
could have done without a great deal of the frenetic business — she never
calmed down long enough to let us enjoy the beautiful music she and Donizetti
might have made together. Charm is undercut by this level of aggression, and
it is possible to charm, even in knockabout farce, without channeling Lucy
Ricardo. Nor is it necessary to make invidious comparisons to the equally
funny but musically richer performances of Sutherland or Sills (or Freni, who
sang the loveliest, purest “Il faut partir” I’ve ever heard). Merely
cast an eye on Florez for balance: yes, he gallivanted adorably, yes he sang
eighteen high C’s — pure, even, perfectly produced high C’s at that —
in order to provide an encore, and stepped out of character to bow when they
were done — but when it was his turn to be Tonio, the naïve and ardent
lover, and to be quietly sincere, then quiet sincerity is what he gave us. He
knows when to turn off the spigot of farce and still be present. Dessay does
not seem to know how to do this, and her constantly jokey performance in due
course tired me out. Perhaps if she’d put a little of that gag energy into
maintaining a bel canto line, we’d have real opera here.
When Florez first set foot on the Met stage a few years back, his rapture
at having an audience to delight was like an electric shock passing visibly
through his body and outwards to tingle everyone present, but though his
Rossini technique was surely the most extraordinary of any tenor in a hundred
years, the voice itself (as he admits) was gruff, unbeautiful, lacking
sensuality. The instrument has lately grown larger and more lyrical, more
capable of sustaining beautiful sound, with no noticeable decline in
flexibility and an ease at filling an enormous theater that can only thrill.
Too, he knows how to act like an oaf so as to win any and every heart. A
Felicity Palmer makes an elegant eldritch marquise (though why her German
schloss of Berkenfeld has added a letter to become the English
Berkenfield is a puzzle) and Alessandro Corbelli a stout, bald Sergeant
Sulpice. After a scrappy slog through the overture, Marco Armiliato shaped up
in the pit, and gave every sign of enjoying himself. Mention should be made
of choreographer Agathe Mélinand, whose four housemaids polishing furniture
while doing ballet exercises had us all in stitches, and who — I presume it
was her idea — had the soldiers keep waltz-time with their helmeted heads
to Florez’s encore.