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Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
16 Nov 2008
Lucrezia Borgia at the Washington National Opera
After a somewhat shaky start to the season, as my recently posted review of La traviata attests, Washington National Opera has added considerable luster to its roster this November with the infusion of spectacle and star power in two new productions.
My subject today is the
first of these, Donizetti’s perpetually underperformed 1833 masterpiece
Lucrezia Borgia. The next installment, to appear in a few days, will
comment on the second – Bizet’s perennial favorite, the 1875
Lucrezia is a fiendishly difficult work for all involved.
Spectacular settings of Renaissance Venice and Ferrara require the expensive
kind of luxury in staging – luxury without ostentation. The director
must create a sympathetic figure out of a legendary mass murderess, whose
grit Donizetti evidently admired enough to make her a soprano, a victim, a
mother, and a girl with a heart – most of the time… Meanwhile,
the lead singer has to survive the endless bel canto lines and the
head-spinning coloratura of her dramatic role written for a lyrical voice,
all the while staying “in character” – and a character that
psychologically is barely comprehensible to most of us. This was a tall
order, and the result was worth the price of admission, which at the
Washington National is always memorable in and of itself.
Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro, Kate Aldrich as Maffio Orsini.
A major ingredient in the production’s success was the fact that it
was a Gesamtkunstwerk of sorts, with both stage direction and visual
design in the excellent hands of the admirable John Pascoe. The stunning
visuals, a fusion of old-world luxury with edgy and abstract modern lines,
were sophisticated yet not overbearing. Central to the design were gigantic
stone walls, first parting in welcome to the carnival atmosphere of Venice,
the endless party town, then closing ominously to lock the characters and the
audience in. Together with the fabulous lighting, a persistently excellent
WNO feature (designer Jeff Bruckerhoff), these sets enhanced the complex
psychological drama woven by Mr Pascoe the stage director. His reading of the
libretto explained (if not entirely justified) Lucrezia’s bloodthirsty
nature and reputation for promiscuity by casting her as a victim of incest
and sexual abuse – an interpretation for which there is a valid
historical precedent, as well as some veiled hints in the Donizetti score.
Just to top it off, the historical heroine’s fictional son, Gennaro, is
torn between an oedipal passion for his mother and a homoerotic one for his
best friend Orsini – it is almost hard to believe Lucrezia has
not yet joined The Tudors as a prime-time show on Cinemax!
Renée Fleming was billed as the star attraction of the show, and so she
was. The singer’s famously buttery voice was on full display, even in
Donizetti’s inhumane coloratura passages, which not only seemed easy,
but were – a rare treat indeed – musical. Ms Fleming’s
formidable acting skills served her best through the sections of the drama in
which Lucrezia comes across as a sympathetic victim, fighting desperately for
survival and the remaining shreds of her feminine dignity. It was harder to
appear sympathetic in her Act 3 Scene 2 entrance, clad in male warrior attire
(an unfortunate costume choice, in my opinion) and rejoicing in having just
poisoned a group of admittedly foolish but basically harmless young men.
Kate Aldrich as Maffio Orsini, Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro, Renée Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia
Vittorio Grigolo as Gennaro had an easier task. His character’s
sexual ambiguity is defined situationally, in relation to others throughout
the opera, while Gennaro himself essentially remains unchanged – a
young, passionate, straightforward (if not totally straight) macho warrior.
Mostly what is required to strike the right tenor here is, forgive the
obvious pun, the right tenor. Mr Grigolo is in a possession of a fantastic
one: sonorous, yet crisp and metallic, a highly appropriate timbre for
Donizetti’s character. Despite his youth, the singer was a worthy
partner to Ms Fleming. Then again, he started performing professionally at
age thirteen, and his first solo gig was at the Sistine Chapel – not
your average résumé!
Vittorio Grigolo was not the only young singer in the cast. He was
partnered with mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich in the travesti role of
Maffio Orsini. One of the least experienced members of the ensemble, Miss
Aldrich did an admirable job, which under normal circumstances would have
garnered her well-deserved accolades. However, she was cursed by proximity.
She simply could not quite hold her own in this all-star production and came
across, undeservedly perhaps, as only adequate. On the other hand, the
performance of the most venerable member of the line-up, the legendary
Verdian bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi, demonstrated both the advantages and
pitfalls of experience. The 67-year-old singer appeared in a role with a
significantly lower tessitura than those he performed in his early years. The
part was shorn of most of its coloratura in an effort to accommodate the lack
of flexibility in the voice, particularly conspicuous against Ms
Fleming’s nonchalant virtuosity. Yet, unencumbered by the customary
technical fireworks, Mr Raimondi was free to unleash his impressive dramatic
talent, arguably more important than vocal prowess in the role of villainous
Duke Alfonso. It was an honor to watch the old master at work.
Another master, Raimondi’s old partner Placido Domingo, was also
involved in the production as the conductor of the performance.
Unfortunately, on that front I have few laurel wreaths to award. Just as
visual spectacle has consistently been one of the strongest elements of
WNO’s productions, the company’s orchestra is almost always the
weakest link. Donizetti’s score for Lucrezia Borgia is quite
difficult for its time and genre; it contains, for instance, an unusual
amount of brass writing, both in the pit and off-stage. Mr Domingo did a good
job as a conductor, and the orchestra sounded better than the last time I
heard it (in La traviata), but that is a very low bar to hurdle. In
comparison with the level of artistry displayed by the singers and the
director-designer in this production, the orchestral performance was barely
passable, and I wish Mr Domingo, as the artistic director as well as
conductor of the Washington National Opera could do something to improve a
situation that surely cannot satisfy him. Other than that, Lucrezia
is a world-class production, and the company is to be congratulated on its