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Prom 51 — St. John Passion

Sunday 24th August at the Proms promised a day dedicated to the music of Bach, beginning with an organ recital in the afternoon by Simon Preston and ending with a late-night performance of the first three of the six Cello Suites by Chinese cellist Jian Wang by way of a palate-cleanser.

The Second to Last Night of the Proms – Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

The Last Night of the Proms is notorious because it’s an excuse for jingoistic excess.

Prom 70 — St François d’Assise

Even a concert performance of Messiaen’s St François d’Assise could hardly fail to be an event.

“Great Performances” remembers Pavarotti — What remains is the voice.

Luciano Pavoritti died on September 6, 2007. The all-too-ample figure and the fables associated with him are already retreating from memory.

Cecilia Bartoli at the Musikverein Wien

Every time an artist walks onto the performance stage, he or she attempts to give the performance of their lives, focusing on everything they have learned prior to, and giving of themselves in an unprecedented way.

Prom 68 — Russian Fairy Tales from Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky

Kashchey is a gnarled old ogre who imprisons a beautiful young princess in his gloomy underworld. It’s classic psychodrama. Kashchey has supernatural powers, so how can the Princess be saved ?

The Coronation of Poppea

The startup of a new opera company is always cause for cheering; it is getting harder and harder (that is, more and more expensive) to do, especially in New York.

Prom 64 — Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Messiaen’s Turangâlìla-symphonie

Because Turangâlìla is such a panorama, taking in Hollywood, Hindus and Peruvians, Wagner and Gurrelieder, it’s easy to assume it’s all surface Technicolor.

Shadowless in Amsterdam

The Netherlands Opera opened its season at the Muziektheater with a stunning new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, setting the bar very high indeed for all that is to follow in the repertoire.

HANDEL: Belshazzar

Although performances of Handel’s more obscure large-scale works are relatively common in London, it is far less common that they are given in a venue as large and high-profile as the Royal Albert Hall, with a line-up of conductor and soloists that will attract a full house for a lengthy and static work on a hot summer evening.


Janáček’s music has already been well served in this year’s Proms in a memorable evening conducted by Boulez (reviewed on this site by Anne Ozorio).

A Muse for the Masses: Two Operatic Arenas in Review

With the revival of a 1876 Cleopatra by the local composer Lauro Rossi, a couple of world premieres in chamber opera and sacred oratorio (by Marco Tutino and Alberto Colla, respectively) and Verdi’s Attila canceled because of budget constraints, the 44th installment of the Macerata Festival will nevertheless be remembered as a bumper season, if one not particularly friendly to mainstream taste.

Wagnerian Score: Music 10; Drama 1

The venerable Wagner Festival in Bayreuth has never shied away from provocative productions.

Prom 34 — Puccini's Il Tabarro; Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 1

In a nod to the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth, the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra visited the Proms with their chief conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, for a performance of the first opera of Il trittico.

“Ariadne auf Naxos” at Toronto Music Festival

“Only in the realm of the dead is everything pure.”

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.

Torre - Torre - Torre

I hoped it was not an omen of the evening to come at Torre del Lago’s Puccini Festival, when the audience was made to wait at the closed gates until about twenty minutes before curtain rise, listening to the orchestra and chorus a hundred yards away rehearse chunks of that night’s Edgar.

Prom 18 — L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s annual appearance at the Proms is always an eagerly-awaited event, but there is a varying degree of success with which the productions adapt from a full staging at Glyndebourne to a semi-staging suitable for the small platform and cavernous space of the Royal Albert Hall.

Lucky star over the Arena

“Stage direction should not follow fashion, for fashion is the sister of death”.

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina

At the curtain call for the first night of WNO’s new production of the infrequently performed Khovanshchina director David Pountney wore a simple Russian shirt.



Giuseppe Verdi
16 Sep 2008

Prom 61 — Verdi's Requiem

The Verdi Requiem is a regular feature at the Proms, having appeared every few years in past decades, usually to full houses.

Prom 61 — G. Verdi: Requiem

Violeta Urmana (soprano), Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Calleja (tenor), Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (bass). BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Jiří Bělohlávek (cond.)
Royal Albert Hall, 31 August 2008


This year it was the turn of the BBC Symphony Orchestra under their Chief Conductor Jiři Bělohlávek, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus and a first-class line-up of vocal soloists.

What was truly remarkable, and frankly it should be something that can be taken for granted in high-profile professional performances, was the consistency in intonation and tone quality among the four soloists. They were big voices but there was not a wobble among them. The octaves between soprano and mezzo in the Agnus Dei were sung with such mutual sensitivity that the effect was almost one of a single voice (though ironically, the couple of bars where the two female voices are actually in unison revealed that they do not naturally blend). Joseph Calleja’s beauty and strength of tone made the Ingemisco searching and not in the least self-indulgent, while the pinpoint accuracy of Ildebrando d’Arcangelo gave the broken phrases of the Mors stupebit an authoritative finality which made the rests work at least as effectively as the notes.

Though Violeta Urmana's Libera me never quite sounded as though she was terrified for her mortal soul, the sheer power and accuracy of her delivery made for a hair-raising experience. Pace my reservations about this one-time mezzo’s ability to crown the orchestral sound with her top notes, even the quiet ones. Olga Borodina cancelled at short notice and was replaced by Michelle DeYoung, whose glinting mezzo in the Liber scriptus left the audience in little doubt that this WOULD be the fate in store for them.

For the Sanctus and Libera me fugues, Bělohlávek’s tempi were somewhat steady, perhaps due to the need to accommodate the substantial massed choral forces. As in many past performances of this piece, the trumpets of the Tuba mirum were arranged at various points throughout the Hall, with the third group being high up in the Gallery at the back; spatially it’s very effective, but musically it’s a mistake because of the sheer distance and resultant time-lag. They were never going to be in time with each other.

Generally, though, the orchestral sound was full and impressive, and the combined effort made for the finest and most powerful performance of the Verdi Requiem I can recall.

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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