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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Wagner: Arias
02 Nov 2008

Wagner Duets: Nilsson and Hotter, Polaski and Botha

A few years ago EMI released a recording of Wagner duets with Placido Domingo and Deborah Voigt.

Wagner: Opera Arias and Duets

Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hotter, Leopold Ludwig, Philharmonia Orchestra

EMI Classics 5099950970322 [CD]

$12.99  Click to buy

Perhaps it won’t be too long before EMI decides that release belongs in their “Great Recordings of the Century” series, but for now, their Wagner duet collection under that sobriquet comes from 1957, with the legendary Hans Hotter and Birgit Nilsson. Another disc of Wagner duets out recently, from the small Oehms label, features Deborah Polaski and Johan Botha in the major scenes for Tristan und Isolde. Both discs feature an established veteran caught somewhat late, and a rising star in the repertoire - but with the genders reversed.

Hans Hotter had been singing Wotan and the Dutchman for a couple decades when Walter Legge decided to pair him with the up-and-coming Birgit Nilsson (although she was near 40 at the time of the sessions). Nillson also sings Senta’s solo number, as well as those of the Tannäuser Elisabeth, the Lohengrin Elsa, and Isolde’s “Liebestod” (on a bonus second disc). The brief booklet note by Mike Ashman depicts the EMI release as a by-product of Legge’s frustrated desire to record a complete Ring cycle. The last 40 minutes of Die Walküre’s act three present a Wotan of depleted but still potent authority, with Hotter’s bass at times shaky and short-breathed, yet still commanding respect. Nilsson is in fine voice, but the characterization of Brünnhilde would grow as her career continued. It’s intriguing to hear the great soprano hold back her power to get into the characters of Elisabeth and Elsa. However, at times, her intonation suffers a bit. The voice in full cry has more impact, and both her Senta solo scene and the duet with Hotter’s Dutchman show her off well.

The conducting of Leopold Ludwig is more serviceable than distinguished, while the Philharmonia Orchestra sounds very good. The sound has some tape hiss, easily adjusted to.

T_I_Duets.pngOehms offers a “super-audio” CD of Tristan und Isolde highlights, with very clean, crisp sound. Bertrand de Billy may not have built his reputation on Wagner, but he leads a warm, intimately scaled reading with the RSO Wien. The strongest attraction of this disc is the beautiful yet masculine performance of Johan Botha as Tristan. Here is a lover and a warrior, soaring high with total security. Botha has yet to sing the role on stage, and if he can be directed to be a livelier stage presence than he has shown himself to be in the past, he should present a formidable Tristan. Deborah Polaski, on the other hand, has sung Isolde for over two decades. On the plus side, she has developed a full-scale interpretation of a woman of barely controllable temperament, almost as fearsome in her passion as in her act one rage. On the not so plus side - the voice simply does not record well. She sounds quite a bit older than her Tristan, and the top tends to spread.

To stick to its chosen framework of “The Duet Scenes,” Oehms allows for some abrupt edits, especially at the end of the love duet. There’s no time for King Marke, either, or anything from act three. So those frustrated by the selections might want to look for another Oehms disc of Isolde’s other music, which presumably contains Polaski’s version of the Liebestod. Perhaps better yet, switch over to the Nilsson/Hotter disc for Birgit’s exalted “Mild und leise.”

Chris Mullins

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