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.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
For the first time in its history, this summer Garsington Opera will present four productions as well as a large community opera. 2017 also sees the arrival of the Philharmonia Orchestra for one opera production each season for the next five years.
New work by the English artist Rachel Kneebone will be exhibited at Glyndebourne Festival 2017, which opens for public booking on 5 March. The London-based artist has created three new sculptures inspired by two of the operas being staged at the Festival this summer - Cavalli’s Hipermestra and a new opera based on Hamlet by composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
A few years ago EMI released a recording of Wagner duets with Placido Domingo and Deborah Voigt.
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.
Oehms 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.”