Recently in Reviews
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.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
02 Nov 2008
The Tsar’s Bride by OONY
What opera contains a terrific overture, a wedding sextet, two murderous magical potions, a mad scene for coloratura soprano, a magnificent a cappella aria for contralto, dozens of glorious melodies and lots of nifty choral writing?
If you read the heading of this review, you already know the answer:
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar’s Bride – one of
the most popular operas throughout Russia, but downright obscure in the West
– it has never been staged in New York (to my knowledge), despite a
huge Russian community who would eat it up and a dozen visits over the years
from three or four of Russia’s leading opera companies wasting our time
with Mlada or Macbeth or far too many Onegins.
Rimsky-Korsakov was in an Italianate mood when he composed
Tsar’s Bride, with its feast of plot complications and
consequent musical situations: licentious boyar Grisha Gryaznoi (heroic
baritone) lusts for Marfa (coloratura soprano), though she is about to wed
her truelove Lykov (romantic tenor). Grisha persuades the tsar’s
sinister German alchemist, Bomelii (character tenor), to concoct a potion
that will make Marfa fall for best man Grisha instead. Complication one:
Grisha’s jealous mistress Lyubasha (dynamite Slavic mezzo) switches the
potion with another one, intended to destroy Marfa’s good looks –
never mind how Lyubasha got the sleazy alchemist to run it up for her (think:
Tosca). Complication two: Just as Marfa drinks the potion on her
wedding day, news arrives that the tsar, Ivan the Terrible no less (sinister
offstage presence), has chosen Marfa as his bride! Too, the potion
– what was in it? – turns out to be poison that drives
her lyrically insane. At curtain’s fall, everyone is either miserable
or dead except the tsar, who remains off stage, singing (we may imagine),
“Next!” (Ivan married more wives than Henry VIII. He once
proposed to Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth.)
Bride is, thus, one of those operas (like Don Carlos or Don
Giovanni or L’Africaine) where no single character grabs
our attention all night; we are involved with the dilemmas and desires of
many, and follow them through to a general catastrophe. One reason the opera
may be rare over here may be the sheer number of great voices who are
required to sing beautiful arias and ensembles in the true, flavorful Russian
manner. Lyubasha calls for a grand low-voiced lady, with a voice from the
vaults of the earth; it has long been a signature role for Borodina, and she
graciously returned to sing it with Queler a second time. Marfa’s
father, Sobakin, is a Russian bass from the old church-trained tradition,
like Boris or Prince Igor or Prince Gremin. Marfa herself
is an all-stops-out coloratura, whose lovely final scene is one of
Rimsky’s handsomest tunes. And first and last there is the devilish
Grisha Gryaznoi, whose outward brashness conceals inner torment, selfishness,
crime and, finally, a (very Russian) orgy of guilt. Half a dozen minor roles
have major parts to sing in solos and ensembles.
The problem is that it’s hard to bring in a worthy performance (and
O.O.N.Y.’s was a very worthy performance) unless you have dozens of
great Russian singers at your disposal – but that doesn’t prevent
anyone in the West from staging Boris Godunov or even the far less
theatrically promising Khovanshchina or Prince Igor –
all three of which, by the way, might never have captured the stage at all
had it not been for Rimsky-Korsakov’s now discredited editing.
Happily, Eve Queler and her Opera Orchestra of New York threw caution to
the winds and brought this wonderful piece back to Carnegie Hall for the
first New York hearing in twenty years. Olga Borodina, new in town at that
previous performance, is now a grande dame and local favorite, but she
retains the plummy low notes that make Lyubasha appealing, her disastrous
passions touching. Borodina is one of the rare Russian singers (her husband,
Ildar Abdrazakov, is another) who has no trouble singing Italian music
idiomatically, without the voiced vowels and Slavic curlicues that make so
many Russian opera singers a little risible in western song, but back in her
native element there seem to be depths of tragic character lurking in the
rounded shadows of her singing.
Alexey Markov made an exciting impression chewing up the stage as the
narcissistic Grisha. He is a fine singing actor, with a plush, endearing
baritone – and it is necessary that this character make himself a
lovable scamp in the great narrations of the first act or his hideous
behavior for the rest of the evening will only depress you. Yeghishe
Manucharyan sang ardently and deft phrasing as Marfa’s hapless true
love, but John Easterlin nearly stole the tenor honors with a Bomelii at once
forceful and melodramatically harsh. You did not need a libretto to know
which of these men was the lover and which the villain, and Easterlin made a
villain it was a delight to hiss. Christophoros Stamboglis, as Marfa’s
understandably confused father, had a good time with one of those stirring,
from-the-depths-of-the-Russian-earth bass arias – only the last, very
lowest note eluded him. There were many excellent young singers in minor but
important roles (housekeeper, sister, mother – impossible to tell them
apart as the electric titles often broke down and there was no printed
libretto), and such poignant bits of music-making as the lovely wedding
sextet (the last happy moment before the potion is drunk and Tsar
Ivan’s messenger arrives) were revels in the bosom of vocal art.