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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Leoš Janáček by Gustav Böhm, 1926
21 Aug 2008

Prom 40 – Boulez conducts Janáček

Contrary to popular assumption, Janáček wasn’t “folkloric” per se, much as he loved his Moravian heritage. Boulez’s perceptive approach shows how inventive and original Janáček’s music can be.

Leoš Janáček: Mša glagolskaja [Glagolitic Mass]

Jean-Efflam Bavourzet (piano), Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo), Simon O’Neill (tenor), Péter Fried (baritone), Simon Preston (organ) , BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra., London Symphony Chorus, Pierre Boulez (conductor).
Royal Albert Hall, London, 14 August 2008


After the revelatory From The House of the Dead in 2007, it will come as no surprise that Boulez has very special insights, which grow from studying what the composer actually wrote, rather than following received wisdom. No artist with integrity can copy, and what there is of tradition in Janáček is of very recent vintage. Boulez’s ideas are shaped by the music itself, in particular the creative explosion of Janáček’s final decade. Significantly, Boulez came to Janáček through reading the score of The Diary of One Who Disappeared, arguably the beginning of that surge of inspiration. The Diary is an extraordinary work. It blends magic, lyricism and explicit sexual menace, complete with otherworldly off stage voices. Like the tenor, Janáček was embarking into the unknown.

With its confident opening fanfare, the Sinfonietta is dramatic. In the Royal Albert Hall it was visually stunning, for the 13 brass players stood up in a row : trumpets and horns catching the light, glowing like gold. Yet what was striking about this performance was how subtly it was achieved. Noise alone doesn’t mean passion. Janáček played down extremes of volume for a reason. This brass was bright and lucid, not brutalist, leading naturally into sweeping “open spaces” heralded by the winds. This piece was written for athletes celebrating the birth of the new Republic, so this clean vernal playing beautifully captured the spirit of optimism. Boulez understood context. The sassy, punchy turns were there like echoes of a military band en fête. Not violent, but impudent and full of joy.

This combined well, with Capriccio, written for a left handed pianist and small ensemble. It’s as playful, lithe as a cat. The mock heroic passages in the second part, and the deadpan downbeat figures throughout were played with warmth: Boulez’s dry humour proved that there’s more to fun in music than belly laughs. Capriccio isn’t heard too often. Perhaps we need to reassess Janáček’s quiet wit.

The Proms specialise in spectaculars like the Glagolitic Mass, with over 200 choristers, a huge orchestra, 4 soloists, and organ. The Royal Albert Hall organ has 9999 pipes, 147 stops and a height of 32 feet. It’s the second biggest in the world. Janáček was himself an organist and would have been thrilled. In a small Moravian church, this Mass would have been claustrophobic, but Janáček, an atheist who knew all about playing in churches, said his cathedral was “the enormous grandeur of mountains beyond which stretched the open sky…the scent of moist forests my incense”. Parallels with Boulez’s teacher Olivier Messiaen are obvious.

Again, Boulez brings insight. With forces like these, any performance is monumental, hence the temptation is to let sheer scale dominate. Instead Boulez maintains clarity, so the complex textures remain bright and clean. Orchestral details count, despite the magnitude of the setting. The four soloists could easily be heard above the tumult, and the massed voices of the choirs were not muddied. Good singing too, especially Fried and O’Neill. In any Mass, there’s a tendency to focus on lush excess : after all the “story” is pretty big. But as Boulez, himself an unbeliever said before the Prom, the composer chose to set the words in ancient Slavonic which few people understood. This creates a sense of distance, allowing the listeners some freedom of imagination. Of course words like “Gospodi” and “Amin” have obvious meaning, but the words are signposts. The action is in the music and how we listen. Janáček is also creating a temporal distance, as if the piece was a throwback to ancient times and ancient communities that had ceased to exist even in his time.

The version used in this Prom was an edition by Paul Wingfield based on the original score, wilder than the more refined edition we’re used to. Boulez responded to this well, sculpting angular blocks of sound, respecting the jagged, wayward rhythms. This was echt Janáček, that old curmudgeon ! The movement for solo organ seemed almost sedate in comparison, but this being the mighty Willits, there was no way it sounded tame.

Anne Ozorio

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