Recently in Reviews
Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company
co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on
Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War
For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.
There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham
Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.
Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.
Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel
One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander
Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several,
recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred
Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was
first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic
under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart,
based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney
at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at
Netherlands Opera earlier that year).
I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most
appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques
Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.
This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .
During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the
10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered
the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is
designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the
composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to
‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest
cornerstones of our civilisation’.
Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.
The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.
When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés
out of our misery?
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.
Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.
‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.
It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.
13 Nov 2008
A powerful, poignant Elektra at the Royal Opera House, London
“This won’t be a total Schlacht of sound” said the director, Charles Edwards, of this production. Instead, it’s a strikingly intelligent interpretation, focusing on the deeper aspects of the drama.
Despite his extensive experience, this is Mark Elder’s first
Elektra. He was adamant that the characterization should reflect the
music. Elektra’s part is surprisingly tender at times. Twisted by fate,
she’s become wild, but beneath the madness still lurks the real woman
Elektra might have been. This makes her tragedy all the more poignant. The
real drama here doesn’t lie in decibels. Orchestrally, this was superb.
Elder understands the inner dynamic of the music, grasping the fine detail
sometimes lost in the vast sweep. Harsh, dry percussion punctuates the
beating of the maids. They, too, are victims of the brutal regime. The fifth
maid, who protests, is destroyed, as Elektra will be. The playing was so well
judged that this would have made a superb recording, even without the
Yet what visuals ! A monstrous Bauhaus monolith is set at an awkward angle
against a Greek temple. These architectural fault lines remind us that
Elektra is powerful political commentary. Klytemnestra murdered Agamemnon to
seize his kingdom, but she can’t enjoy power, her nightmares pursue
her. Elektra is duty bound to avenge her father, but she’s irrevocably
warped by it, and cannot live past retribution. As for Orestes, who will now
be king ? Neither Strauss nor von Hofmannsthal make this explicit in the
opera, but they knew, and their audiences knew, Orestes continues to be
punished by the Gods. This production was conceived at the start of the Iraq
war although it references that turning point in European history, just
before the collapse of the Austrian, German and Russian empires. If anything,
recent events like the failure of the banking system, reinforce the point
that power is an illusion, easily destroyed. Nothing’s stable : Aegisth
whirls round, dying, in a revolving door.
In this palace, family values are dysfunctional. There are disturbing
sexual undercurrents in all relationships. Perceptively, however this
production doesn’t play up the kinkiness, but places it firmly in the
context of the power crazed society around the palace. Everyone is trapped in
this brutal situation. Hence the production accentuates the importance of the
maids and subsidiary characters, expanding them as silent roles.
Susan Bullock as Elektra is outstanding. Because this interpretation makes
her sympathetic, Bullock can develop the more subtle aspects of
Elektra’s personality. She’s no screaming mad harpie. There are
many traces of the woman she might have become. She mocks the maids for
having children, yet understands why Chrysothemis wants babies. The dynamic
between Elektra and Chrysothemis (beautifully realized by Anne Schwanewilms),
is lucidly defined. “Ich kann nicht sitzen und ins Dunkel starren wie
du “, cries Chrysothemis. It helps explain why, at her moment of
triumph, Elektra deflates. She has nothing to sustain her but vengeance and
must die when she achieves it. Her final dance is slow, barely perceptible,
as if she’s sinking into the very ground, carrying the “burden of
happiness” which no longer has meaning.
A scene from Elektra [Photo by Clive Barda]
Orestes is the finest part I’ve seen Johan Reuter play so far, and
it suits him well. So much more can be made of Klytemnestra and Aegisth than
Jane Henschel and Frank van Aken presented, but in theatrical terms this was
no real loss, as it didn’t pull focus away from the sisters and
Orestes, and the wider drama around them. Rarely does lighting merit a
mention, but this time it was exceptionally effective. Agamemnon features
prominently as a silent role, his “ghost” projected onto the
walls of his palace. When Elektra sings to Orestes of “Der milchige des
Monds”, a faint, but persistent light shines on the corrugated panoply
above her. It’s a tiny detail, easily missed, but that moment of beauty
throws the tragedy into high relief. This Elektra becomes more
profoundly moving, the more it unfolds.