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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.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
22 Jun 2008
A rare treasure in Saint Louis. . .
Pink flamingos, sheep on wheels, and a queen crowned with giant antlers all inhabit the zany world of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s Una cosa rara, where the artificial 18th century pastoral commingles with cutesy country colors and 1950s yard art.
Although Cosa rara’s eponymous
rare treasure concerns the honesty of a beautiful woman, Opera Theatre surely
enjoyed the play on words in presenting this rarely performed but
once-treasured opera. The company has successfully contextualized Mozart in
its last few seasons by presenting works of his contemporaries, including
Grétry’s Beauty and the Beast (1771) and Cimarosa’s The
Secret Marriage (1792). Vincent Martín y Soler’s opera continues this
trend, since nearly everything about Una cosa rara reminds us of its more
familiar Mozartian brethren.
Born in Spain two years before Mozart, Martín lacked his contemporary’s
astonishing precocity, though by his early twenties he had composed comic
operas for many important Italian towns. He moved to Vienna in 1785, four
years after Mozart’s own arrival. The following year each man composed an
opera for Emperor Joseph II’s Italian theater. Mozart inaugurated his
partnership with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, culminating in Le nozze di
Figaro. Martín likewise collaborated with da Ponte on his comic opera,
Una cosa rara. Figaro’s modest success in May 1786 was
overshadowed by Una cosa rara’s triumphant debut eight months
later. In October 1787 Martín penned a follow-up hit with the immensely
popular pastoral work L’arbore di Diana. Less than a month later,
Don Giovanni opened in Prague. In it, Mozart acknowledged his
peer’s popularity by quoting a tune from Cosa rara during the Act
II dinner entertainment. These textual and musical links to Mozart are not
just historical happenstance, but structurally important in Cosa
rara. Da Ponte’s influence weighs heavily, with both the plot and the
characters echoing Figaro and Così fan tutte. Although
Martín’s musical style lacks the spice of Mozart at his best, Cosa
rara is perfectly passable as good 18th century opera. For us just as
for the Viennese, Martín’s pleasant pastoral ditties digest easily.
Stage director Chas Rader-Schieber conceived Opera Theatre’s Cosa rara
as a farcical world of warped whimsy, albeit with a rather friendly touch.
His vision was amply fulfilled by the aforementioned sheep on wheels, pink
flamingos, garden gnomes, etc. These flamingos extended beyond mere props,
even decorating the outdoor gardens at intermission. The set and the costumes
seemed to get as much or more attention than the music, since each
character’s entrance was accompanied by applause or laughter. The costumes
continued to get more and more outlandish, culminating in the high (or low?)
point of the Queen’s Act II hunting outfit, which featured giant pink
glittering antlers affixed to her head. It was all extremely silly, but the
cast (and audience by extension) seemed to have a ball.
Although the visual spectacle of this production dominated at times, the
vocal performances were solid as well, with some truly excellent moments.
Soprano Mary Wilson was both impressive and endearing as the dotty Queen of
Spain, and she certainly seemed to enjoy her silly onstage shenanigans. She
wowed the audience during many of her numbers, particularly the virtuoso
rondo in Act II. A great example of Cosa rara’s more elevated
musical style for the noble characters, Wilson nailed the difficult technical
passages in this aria with finesse and good taste in ornamentation. Her son
the Prince was interpreted in a delightfully hammy manner by tenor Alek
Schrader. With his over the top pink and black sequined costume, his platinum
blond wig a cross between Madame Pompadour and rockabilly à la Jerry Lee
Lewis, Schrader titillated the audience throughout. His difficult Act II
recitative and aria was very nicely sung, although perhaps one might desire a
little more power in the finish. Corrado’s part, sung by Paul Appleby, was
much less substantial, with only short solos.
Maureen McKay and Alek Schrader
On to the peasants! Soprano Maureen McKay was absolutely delightful as the
ingenuous shepherdess Lilla, and had the audience in stitches from her first
entrance, running frantically onto stage and literally throwing herself at
the Queen’s feet. Though this particular performance had a few isolated
strained notes in the higher register, McKay has a lovely clear voice, and
her perfect acting really helped make the production. Lilla’s lover Lubino,
a rather dimwitted impetuous shepherd, was well-served by Keith Phares’
rich baritone voice and excellent diction. Phares particularly amused the
audience with his ridiculous Act I parody of a vengeance aria. If Lilla and
Lubino represent the perfect shepherd couple, their counterparts Ghita and
Tita offer (still more) comic relief. Ghita was saucily interpreted by
soprano Kiera Duffy, while Matthew Burns took the bass role of Tita. The two
bickered impressively, interspersing their arguments with hilarious make-out
sessions. Both singers had some of the more difficult patter singing in
Cosa rara, which they managed with aplomb. Matthew Burns’s voice
was especially impressive, as was his stellar diction.
The orchestra members, drawn from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, were
well conducted by Corrado Rovaris. They performed the 18th century style
cleanly and followed the singers sensitively, with the only minor shortcoming
being the occasional trampling of forte-piano alternations.
Hugh Macdonald’s new English singing translation certainly added to the
hilarity of it all. He clearly reveled in fashioning silly rhymes such as
mooning and spooning and swooning, and even alerted the audience to the
arrival of the melody famously quoted in Don Giovanni. His new
translation played a major role in the successfully slapstick comedy of this
Cosa rara, cramming in jokes, puns, wink-wink references, and
general silliness by the handful.
Opera Theatre’s rare treasure in this performance seemed to lie not in
the revitalization of some forgotten masterpiece, but in presenting an opera
completely without pretensions, a perfectly frivolous summer treat.
Erin Brooks © 2008