30 Jul 2008
Baroque Oratorio Premieres in New Jersey
For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.
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.
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.
For two years, the subdued rumble of anticipation had been building to a forte.
Finally, on June 22, at the College of St Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey, the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey presented the modern day premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti’s brilliantly operatic oratorio La Giuditta, here in its earliest and most complete form. Maestro Robert W. Butts edited Scarlatti’s masterpiece from the original 1693 manuscript which is currently in the collection of the National Park Service in Morristown, New Jersey.
Scarlatti’s La Giuditta exists in at least two other versions and has been performed and recorded based on a later abridged manuscript. The more extensive March 1693 manuscript used for Sunday’s performance, was brought to the attention of Maestro Butts by Dr. Jude Phister, Chief of Cultural Resources at the Washington’s Headquarters offices.
Maestro Butts brought the score he edited to life, conducting with sensuality and passion while directing the fluid sounding orchestra through the magical ritornelli which concluded each aria. Soloists from within the orchestra were, in places, almost as memorable as the vocal stars. Most notable was concertmaster Michael Avagliano who played a duet with soprano Marjorie Berg on the work’s most extensive aria ma so ben. He performed several other solo parts in collaboration with other musicians of the ensemble.
Providing poignant and moving melodic interest was Nancy Vanderslice who soloed on oboe and English Horn. Bassoonist Andrew Pecota was also solid both in continuo parts and his few solo moments. Harpsichordist John Pivarnik, too, added much to the success of the performance, constantly on deck and supporting the singers perfectly.
Baritone Mark Hewitt filled in at the last minute after two previous singers pulled out. While it is true that Mr. Hewitt had some problems in voice projection of the lowest tones required of his role as Oloferne, he still delivered a performance of notable dramatic intensity. His interaction with Marjorie Berg (Giuditta) was passionate and believeable. The result was something to be genuinely greatly appreciated.
Marjorie Berg gripped the audience with an emotionally involved portrayal of the title role. Have memorized her entire part, she sang with authority and character, conveying equally well the seductive nature and determination inherent in the part.
Bass John Lamb is a familiar face to early music audiences in the area. He executed the relatively small role of Sacerdote in solid vocal form, displaying an even tone appropriate to the gravity that infuses the character. Both arias and recitatives were sung with conviction and style.
Mezzo Teresa Giardina made her debut with the orchestra as Ozia, the beleaguered prince of Bettulia. Recently graduated from Ithica, Ms. Giardina sang with clarity and emotional beauty in arias of great depth. She was especially memorable in the moving addio libertai of the second act.
Tenor Daniel Foran sang the role of the Captain. His voice produced grace and an elegant warm beauty which was especially winning. Mr Foran has been a frequent performer with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey and this performance showed how he’s blossomed in his art. His rendition of dalla patria at the end of Act I was truly unforgettable. Hopefully, he will make the aria a part of his concert and recital repertoire!
Harmonium Choral Society, directed by Anne Matlack, joined in for the final celebratory choruses, adding luster and power to create a rousing finale.
Hearing this deeply moving performance, one can only hope that other singers and ensembles will take this marvelous work into their concert repertoire. The work is filled with beautiful music and is deeply dramatic, practically crying out for a staged interpretation. It was presented here for the first time complete in the modern era. One can only hope it won’t take another three hundred years to hear it completely performed again.