Recently in Performances
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’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
04 Jun 2008
Handel's Rodrigo — Ensemble San Felice, St John’s Smith Square, London
Handel’s Rodrigo, subtitled ‘Vincer se stesso è la maggior vittoria’ (Self-conquest is the greater victory) is one of the composer’s earliest operatic works, and rarely heard.
It was extensively revised between
the completion of the autograph score and its 1707 première in Florence, and
large sections of both versions were subsequently lost. It would appear that
the revisions for the Florence production were to the detriment of the piece,
and thanks to the discovery in 1983 of a substantial amount of lost material
from the autograph (as well as a certain amount of editorial license to
recreate missing recitatives, and the loan of a couple of numbers from
Handel’s other operas) Alan Curtis’s performing edition — given here in
London by a Florentine ensemble as part of the Lufthansa Baroque Festival —
is based on Handel’s original intentions.
The story is loosely based on that of an actual 8th-century Spanish king
and conqueror, whose political victories were complicated by his apparent
inability to be faithful to his wife. In the libretto (by Silvani, and
originally set a few years earlier by Marc’Antonio Ziani) Rodrigo has
seduced the impressionable young Florinda with the promise of a throne,
consequently fathered her a child, and then reneged on his offer. She is left
furious, disgraced and bent on revenge, while Rodrigo goes back to his
rightful queen, the saintly but childless Esilena, who understandably is
deeply distressed by the whole situation. Esilena’s constancy in the face
of marital wrongdoing is, in the end, the salvation of all concerned (along
with a convenient eleventh-hour plot development whereby Florinda gets a
better offer and gives Rodrigo up for good).
Acts 2 and 3 contain some interesting and original numbers — a lovely
lute serenade for the soprano secondo uomo, Evanco, and a fragment of a tenor
aria (for Giuliano, Florinda’s brother) with a quirky bassoon obbligato,
which is cut off by an advance in the plot just as it reaches the B section.
The same cannot be said for the first act, where nearly every aria is one of
anger, vengeance or war — each individual aria certainly gives the singer
scope to demonstrate mettlesome coloratura technique, but an entire act full
of identical numbers is rather tiresome, especially when there’s little
variety in tessitura (the lowest voice in the cast being a tenor) and when
only a couple of the voices were really worth such extended display.
The finest vocal performer by a long way was the soprano Laura Cherici who
sang Esilena; her soft-grained tone had a liquid beauty which portrayed the
wronged queen ideally, and her one fast aria was sung with exceptional flare.
In the title role, the mezzo Gloria Banditelli was disappointing — her
singing was accurate and attractive, but it was not a heroic voice. Here in
London we are so blessed with regular access to good heroic Handelian mezzos
that I fear we take them for granted.
Other than that, not a great deal of the singing was to be recommended;
Annamaria dell’Oste’s Florinda was impressive in her agility and force of
delivery, but she had a tendency to go sharp. In fact, there were intonation
problems from the majority, and the contralto Caterina Calvi (in the
virtually unnecessary role of Fernando) sounded as though she should have
been at home with laryngitis, though no announcement was made to this effect.
There was some exceptionally fine instrumental playing, however —
especially from the continuo cellist and lutenist. Federico Bardazzi was the
Though Luciano Alberti’s semi-staging — against a backdrop of
projected line-drawings of the original 1707 production — was fairly
rudimentary, a fair amount of (dare I say somewhat misplaced) effort had
obviously been made with Enrico Coveri Maison’s costume designs, which
attempted to replicate the styles and shapes shown in the projected images.
They were a typically early-18th-century take on costumes for an opera set in
the 8th century, but coloured in a lurid array of much more modern cerises,
turquoises and oranges.
Ruth Elleson © 2008