Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carlos Kalmar
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.

Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago
Performance of 28 June 2008

Above: Carlos Kalmar, Principal Conductor

 

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 delicate ending.

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 titled.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):