Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
07 Sep 2008
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.
At its première a critic heard
only “a tune for Dorothy Lamour in a sarong, a dance for Hindu
hillbillies”. At this Prom, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic
proved conclusively how inventive it really is.
Rattle paired the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde with
the Liebestod. Often that’s a risk as it can leave you longing
for the singing, but Rattle had thought the two parts through in orchestral
terms. He makes a case for hearing the opera as "music", on its own terms.
Here, the surging waves of sound "are" the message, not background. He shows
how fundamental the flute part is, weaving throughout, commenting without
words. The transition was particularly well blended, one part fading
gradually into the next, like a fade in film gradually coming back into full
color focus. It is cinematic – how Wagner might have loved the movies
Wagner is an appropriate curtain raiser for Messiaen's
Turangâlìla. As a young boy, Messiaen studied Pelléas et
Mélisande, and also inherited the long standing French fascination for
the exotic and "oriental" - think Pierre Loti, Ravel, Maurice Delage and the
Impressionists studying Japanese painting. Wagner was by no means the
dominant influence on Messiaen, but his oceans swells and undercurrents live
on in Turângalìla, as Rattle so clearly demonstrated, stretching the
string lines with soaring, surging magnificence. Messiaen's "trajectory", to
use a favorite Boulez expression, comes not from conventional symphonic
development but from thematic ideas, so this oceanic surge is important.
For the first time, I really understood the sixth section, Le Jardin
du sommeil d'amour. It's slow, almost a relief after the hectic,
inventive fifth section, and has its longueurs. But maybe that's what
Messiaen was getting at. The lovers are together when they're asleep, in
dreams, when the moon pulls the tides that create the waves in the ocean.
It's not as spectacular as the glorious Joie du Sang des étoiles,
but as with so much Messiaen. he's at his most profound when he’s
The Tristan und Isolde concept had even more personal meaning for
Messiaen. He had fallen in love with Yvonne Loriod, but he was married, and,
as devout Catholics, they could not marry until released by his wife’s
death. He "was" Tristan and she Isolde, and Turângalìla is their
mystical union. Hence the significance of the “paganism” in
Turângalìla. Messiaen was fascinated by non-western music, adopting
ideas such as the Indian deçi-tâla rhythms which feature in this piece.
Anyone who’s seen Hindu erotic sculptures can appreciate the concept of
sex as a form of spiritual enhancement, that breaks past the restraint of
western moral convention. So Turângalìla isn’t meant to be
polite “Good Taste”. Those sassy brass passages and almost
Gershwin-like punchiness are essential keys to the spirit of the work. The
famous "statue" theme on brass and clarinet "Flower" themes are "male" and
"female". No wonder Rattle placed such emphasis on how they intertwine,
flirting with each other, so to speak. Pierre-Laurent Aimard's piano and
Tristan Murail's ondes Martenot form a second pair of relationships within
the whole, connecting to percussion and winds, picked up by harp and strings.
Aimard's long solo passages are the unspoken "heart", rather like the flute
in Tristan und Isolde.
The Berlin Philharmonic played with extraordinarily beautiful, transparent
textures – how the brass fanfares shone ! This orchestra can be relied
upon for superlative orchestral color, so what was even more impressive was
how the Berliners took to Messiaen, whose music is so very different to their
mainstream core repertoire. Somehow Rattle inspired them so they played with
free spirited exuberance, capturing the exhilarating intoxication so crucial
to this composer’s idiom. The “bad taste” of
Turângalìla may shock, but it’s the exaltation of spirit that
connects mortals to the divine.
Turângalìla was commissioned by Serge Koussevitsky and premiered
by Leonard Bernstein who hated the piece and refused ever to conduct it
again. Perhaps it’s fortunate as he probably didn’t understand
its internal architecture. Nagano and Salonen have a firm grasp of the
energetic muscularity that animates the piece, but Rattle and the Berlin
Philarmonic exceeded all expectations, marrying technical perfection to
electrifying verve. This performance truly expressed how original and radical
Messiaen really can be.