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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
16 Nov 2008
Wozzeck stands ankle deep in water on the flooded stage of the Bavarian State Opera, above him hovers a huge, movable box – the dingy apartment he shares with Marie and their adolescent bastard – and he is surrounded by a freak-show worthy of a George Groszian nightmare and worse.
Michael Volle portrays Georg Buechner’s and Alban Berg’s
character with unparalleled intensity, such a beautiful baritonal sound even
in the most harrowing moments, and such ease beneath the tortured surface,
that it is almost too good. He did everything as one could hope for in a
Wozzeck on stage, but he never elicited much pity and never seemed quite as
helpless-hapless as Wozzeck probably should. In a way, his great musical and
dramatic strengths came at the expense of the character.
Something similar could be said about Andreas Kriegenburg’s
direction – or more specifically the phenomenal lighting of Stefan
Bolliger and how it works with the continuously fascinating set of Harald B.
Thor and Andrea Schraad costumes: It is so absorbing, so good and stimulating
to look at, it might distract from the psychological development of the
characters. On Monday night, it also distracted from some so-so singing
(Jürgen Müller underpowered and underwhelming as Drum Major and Clive Bayley
with an average night as the Doctor) and in doing so, it unleashed the drama
unto the audience in a visceral way that even Wozzeck-lovers might not have
Because with this would-be quibbles taken care of, the fact remains that
this was a stunning premiere, a spectacular performance, and indeed a
striking success for the Munich Opera’s second new production under the
new general director Klaus Bachler. Kriegenburg, a theater director, had done
only two operas before (which I have not seen), but here he hit a nerve in
just the right way. Instead of exerting a willful personality, ideology, or
aching modernization on Wozzeck, he gives us an internalized picture (set
roughly in the time of the play’s premiere) where the world as Wozzeck
sees it is how the audience sees it. Except for Marie and his son, the
characters are distortions of their personalities, one more disturbing than
the next. The crowds are hordes of unemployed, shadows in the world of
Wozzeck’s steadily slipping sense of reality. When the
apartment-within-the-stage begins to very subtly shift left and right, the
visualization of this losing grasp on reality becomes so perceptible,
it’s as if you could touch it. I felt like I needed a splash of cold
water or a slap in the face myself.
Amid this Michaela Schuster’s Marie altered between pleasurable
cantabile and appropriate crudeness, Wolfgang Schmidt earned merits with his
cleanly sung, morbidly obese captain, and Munich’s tenor-for-everything
Kevin Conners delivered a fine, sonorous Andres. Wozzeck was also a good
night – to the hesitant surprise of the Munich critics – for
music director Kent Nagano.
Speculations about his contract not being renewed are only slowly
residing, discussions about a rift between the music- and general director
are still indulged in with tabloid-like diligence by the feuilletons. But
this performance was one for a mark in his supporter's good books.
Nagano’s strengths emerge best in modern works where clarity is part of
the musical success.
The orchestra, apparently well rehearsed, gave the music
an elastic, clear treatment; the score sounded taut and diaphanous. Only very
occasionally was the orchestra too loud; more often it was very sensitive.
When Nagano waded onto stage, barefoot and his trousers rolled up, he
received as warm a reception as I’ve heard him get in Munich. Only
Kriegenburg and his team got more – wholly absent of boos, too, perhaps
a novelty for a premiere of a modern production in Munich.
If any Wozzeck production can convince the hesitating masses to listen to
this difficult 20th century masterpiece, it would have to be this one.
Jens F. Laurson