Recently in Reviews
Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.
Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.
Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.
It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’
On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.
In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.
Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
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.
14 Dec 2008
Riders to the Sea — English National Opera, London Coliseum
Back in June, in my review of The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadler’s
Wells, I wrote about the valuable and unsurpassed work being done by Richard Hickox to champion the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the composer’s centenary year, a project of which this rare staging of Riders to the Sea for ENO was to be the culmination.
Nobody could have anticipated
that the 60-year-old conductor would suffer a fatal heart attack only four
days before ENO’s opening night.
The show went on in Hickox’s memory, led by ENO’s Music Director Edward
Gardner, who had the difficult task of taking on the project in such sad
circumstances. And Vaughan Williams’s opera, based on a play by J.M. Synge,
is a grim work by anybody’s standards. A peasant woman, Maurya, lives in a
coastal hut in the Aran Islands and has had two daughters and six sons; four
of the sons, along with their father and grandfather, have already had their
lives claimed by the sea. The fifth is missing, believed drowned, and fate
dictates it is only a matter of time before the sixth is similarly lost. In
the space of forty-five minutes, both are confirmed dead.
This was an impressive opera-directorial début by the actress and
theatrical director Fiona Shaw, who created an emotionally-intense dynamic
within what’s left of Maurya’s family. Their house is delineated by lighting
only; there are no walls, so there is never any escape from the elements.
Huge, shadowy upturned boat-hulls descend from above the stage, surreal and
coffin-like. Tom Pye’s wonderfully bleak, craggy set is suggestive of a place
which exists outside of the progress of time; a primaeval wasteland where
nothing ever changes and all human life is in thrall to the will of
In her final monologue, Maurya finds her anticipated devastation
supplanted by a sense of relief and comfort that her life is no longer
burdened by the certain knowledge of the destiny which awaits all of her
menfolk; in one sense it is a small personal victory over nature, albeit in
the context of an acknowledgement of human powerlessness. Mezzo Patricia
Bardon was extraordinary in this scene, imbuing the music’s lyrical lines
with an radiance that contrasts vividly with the terseness of her earlier
Sopranos Kate Valentine and Claire Booth, both making their ENO débuts,
portrayed Maurya’s two daughters with emotional intelligence and excellent
diction. Leigh Melrose — too long absent from the stage of the Coliseum
— was ideal as the angry, burdened Bartley, the last surviving son.
The opera is well under an hour in length, and rather than staging it as a
double bill with another short work, it was done with a curtain-raiser
— Luonnotar, Sibelius’s 15-minute monologue for solo soprano, in a
simple staging against the backdrop of Dorothy Cross’s unnervingly beautiful
video projections. Singing in the original Finnish, and suspended in the
centre of the stage in an eerie monolith which transpired to be one of the
fateful boat-hulls, Susan Gritton was wonderful as the eponymous air-spirit
who becomes trapped in the sea and inadvertently gives birth to the moon and
stars. It was an inspired choice of opener, introducing the relationship
between the sea and the eternal themes of birth, life, death and maternal
grief which Riders goes on to explore further.
(left to right) Patricia Bardon as Maurya, Leigh Melrose as Bartley and Kate Valentine as Cathleen
The production integrates the two works fully, joining them into a single
piece with a specially-commissioned interlude by John Woolrich, an
organic-sounding progression of abstract chords. Not only does the pregnant
Luonnotar open the performance — she closes it too, re-emerging onto
the stage outside Maurya’s empty home, seemingly ready to give birth once
more and perpetuate the cycle of motherhood.
Susan Gritton as Luonnotar
The orchestral playing was powerful, lyrical and atmospheric in what is
mostly very subtle and understated music; the standard was a fitting tribute
to the late Hickox. It was a superb performance by a fine cast in an
excellent production — but it was never going to be a cheerful
Ruth Elleson © 2008