Recently in Performances
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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
13 Jul 2008
Grant Park Music Festival: “20th-Century Masters.”
The concert “20th-Century Masters,” presented by the Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago on 27 and 28 June 2008 featured several pieces performed for the first time under the auspices of the Festival.
The first half of the
program was devoted to those very works new to this venue: The Fantasia
on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for Strings by Ralph Vaughan Williams was
followed by Les Illuminations by Benjamin Britten, here sung by
Karina Gauvin with accompanying string orchestra. Both works were given
thoughtful and well-focused performances under the direction of Carlos
Kalmar, Principal Conductor of the Grant Park Music Festival. After
intermission Béla Bártok’s Concerto for Orchestra added yet
another dimension to the variety encompassed in this program of innovative
works composed during the first five decades of the past century.
The soft beginning of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia indicated,
from the start, a controlled and sensitive performance by the string sections
under Kalmar’s leadership. The clarity of playing by individualized
segments emphasized the effect of groups within a larger composition. In the
first part of the piece the alternations between smaller string groups and
full orchestra were seamless. As an ensemble, the players succeeded in
emphasizing the harmonic complexity of Vaughan Williams’s own variations
balanced against the theme derived from Tallis. During the middle section of
the Fantasia the solo playing, especially by the lead violist and
principal violinist, achieved a thematic counterpoint and repetition as
echoed by other players with successive support from the whole orchestra.
Just as individual lines were varied leading into the final segment, one
could sense Kalmar’s shaping of the gradual descent into a distended
conclusion. A final flourish of melodic repeat by soloists as well as the
full orchestra moved with great effect toward the inexorable and fittingly
The following work in the program, Britten’s Les Illuminations,
was noteworthy for its committed performances by both vocal soloist and
accompanying players. From the first declaration of the repeated verse
“J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” (“I alone have the key to this
parade”) Karina Gauvin established a tone of authority and privileged
vision of the world about which she sang. Set to a selection of texts derived
from two poetic cycles by Arthur Rimbaud, Britten chose poems which move in
tone from that of an ecstatic visionary to a mood of dejected resignation.
Gauvin used her secure vocal range to stunning effect in order both to
comment with the ironic distance of an observer’s voice and to fill out
individual roles or types portrayed in the vision she narrated. After the
introductory “Fanfare,” distinguished by Gauvin’s memorable phrasing
and the violin’s solo, the extended section “Villes” (“Towns”)
depicted humanity caught up in both progress and decay as a symbol of the
contemporary city. As she intoned here the litany of contrasts between the
ancient and the modern, Gauvin accelerated in tempo to catch the near
breathless depiction of lyrical complexity. While hovering above society in
the poem “Phrase” (“Strophe”), the soprano’s quiet introductory
tones were capped by the impeccable high notes of the concluding “et je
danse” (“and now I dance”). Gauvin adapts her voice to the spirit of
each piece, so that she gave an, at times, bell-like rendition to the poem
“Antique” (“Antiquity”), whereas softer, more lyrical phrasing was
evident in “Royauté” (“Royalty”). The movements of a boat’s prow
rising and falling in “Marine” (“Seascape”) were effectively matched
by Gauvin’s effortless scales and runs, the piece ending with a single,
emphatic note on the last vowel of “tourbillons de lumière”
(“whirlpools of light”). The struggles between elemental nature and human
efforts, foolish and tawdry, come to a resolution in the final two poems,
“Parade” and “Départ” (“Departure”). In the first of these
pieces Gauvin’s communication of emotion through song was illustrated
repeatedly. Her skill at acting was also clear in a phrase such as “la
grimace enragée” (“the furious grimace”), in which rage seemed to
suffuse her glance. The song ended with Kalmar’s especially sensitive
direction of the strings supporting Gauvin in the last repetition of the
“key to this parade.” The concluding poem “Départ” gave the singer
yet further opportunity to display lyrical differentiation as tempos slowed
gradually toward a resigned statement of weariness in the phrase “Assez
connu” (“Enough known”). It should be noted here that Gauvin sang the
text of the entire work from memory.
The final piece of the evening, Bártok’s Concerto for
Orchestra, was given a masterful interpretation under Kalmar’s
direction. After a subdued start in the opening Andante, individual
sections of the orchestra blended effectively without sounding overly
controlled. The string section was brought to a shimmer before the dramatic
ending of the first movement. In the second movement, Allegretto
scherzando, the paired instruments played in skillful duets, the
bassoons standing out here especially. The final three movements, each shaped
in keeping with Bártoks’s markings, showcased individual groups of
instruments as punctuated by sweeping phrases from contrasting sections of
the orchestra. The intensification of the final movement was not only
credible, it also brought the individual sections back to a unified
orchestral force. The performance was a fitting conclusion to the evening as