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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

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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

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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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Ghost Ship by Charles Cochrane
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.

R. Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer

Senta (Gweneth-Ann Jeffers); Holländer (James Hancock); Erik (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts); Daland (Karl Huml); Mary (Anne-Marie Owens); Steuermann (Richard Roberts). London Lyric Opera. Lionel Friend, conducting.

Above: Ghost Ship by Charles Cochrane


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 now.

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 the Dutchman.

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

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