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.
12 Dec 2008
Der Fliegende Holländer — London Lyric Opera, Barbican Hall
Much has been promised of London Lyric Opera. The newest company on the capital’s opera scene, it will collaborate with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to specialise in full-scale concert performances with high-profile soloists.
Plans are afoot for a Fidelio at Cadogan Hall in February
2009, and after that, Die Fledermaus and Der Freischütz.
It is unclear whether there might be an intention in the more distant
future to broaden the company’s scope beyond the German language, but perhaps
there shouldn’t be. Although LLO is selecting well-known operas, it is also
actively seeking out unusual and historically-valid performance editions. The
UK is virtually flooded with companies doing the same for Baroque opera, and
for Italian bel canto rarities, but there hasn’t really been anybody around
to take an equivalent interest in the core German repertoire — until
The company’s founder and mastermind is the Australian baritone James
Hancock, and this inaugural concert was the fulfilment of his long-held
desire to perform the title role. Hancock used to be a tenor, and his voice
remains higher-lying than the role demands; more worryingly, his voice simply
dried out as the evening went on, and by the end of Act 2 there was really no
‘juice’ left. Though it is the fashion these days to preserve the dramatic
flow of the opera by going straight through without intervals (as Wagner had
intended at the outset), the two breaks in this performance were a practical
necessity. Karl Huml seemed somewhat too high for Daland, too, and I couldn't
help wondering whether he would have fared better in the title role.
The performance’s unquestionable highlight was the British soprano,
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, making her role début as Senta. Lyrical and muscular of
tone, with an assured stage presence and innate sense of drama, she captured
the supreme emotional focus of Wagner’s early heroine in her desperation to
break out of her downtrodden existence. This ‘authentic’ performance edition
has the Ballad in its original A minor, a tone higher than the familiar key,
and it fit Jeffers’s athletic soprano like a glove.
Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts is neither a natural Wagnerian nor a natural love
interest, but his psychologically intense and highly-charged Erik was a
fitting foil for Jeffers’s Senta. Their pairing was a highly intelligent
piece of casting, and their scenes together were in a different league to the
rest of the opera. If only there had been such chemistry between Senta and
Tenor Richard Roberts’s dopey characterisation of the Steersman was
engaging, though his opening song was something of a struggle; he was quite
plainly suffering from a cold, though no announcement was made.
The soft lyrical passage at the end of Senta’s ballad defeated the ladies
of the Philharmonia Chorus, but their male colleagues were a strong and lusty
Norwegian crew; I’m sure there was nothing wrong with those who supplied the
voices of the ghostly Dutch crew, but there was some nasty distortion on the
amplification system which piped their rousing chorus through from offstage.
Veteran conductor Lionel Friend — who was responsible for the research
into the performing edition — made some strange tempo choices, but the
RPO generally sounded full and energetic, a few cracked brass notes aside.
All in all, the performance would have benefited from better-balanced
casting; Jeffers was just so good that she showed everybody else up. And
better marketing would help ticket sales and thus financial viability; the
Barbican Hall’s stalls were quite full, but there was plenty of space in the
Circle and they didn’t even bother to open the Balcony. If they can sort
these things out, London Lyric Opera could be an enduring success.
Ruth Elleson © 2008