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.
27 Feb 2009
A restrained Flying Dutchman at the Royal Opera House, London
This Der fliegende Holländer was eagerly awaited as it hasn’t been heard at the Royal Opera House, London, since 2000. With Bryn Terfel’s return to Covent Garden as the Dutchman guaranteed a full house.
Terfel’s admirers would not have been disappointed. His voice boomed
with authority, impressive for its strength, even when he had to sing
dragging a heavy rope across the stage and wade through the real water at the
front of the platform. Terfel’s vocal power always impresses, and he has
done interesting Dutchmen elsewhere. However, in this production, by
Tim Albery, he was not called upon to develop the character. Not long ago,
Albery presented Boris Gudonov as stolid, mild-mannered bourgeois.
This Dutchman was no more ravaged than Daland. When the women and
Daland’s sailors call out to the doomed souls on the haunted ship, they
face the audience and shine lights into the auditorium. When the Dutchman’s
crew do appear, they’re neatly dressed in uniform, as if they’d never
been to sea. Maybe there’s some deep meaning in this, but it could have
been thought through with more focus.
Anja Kampe as Senta
The performance was more interesting, though, for what it brought out in
the music. That glorious overture is a marvel of dramatic scene-painting,
setting the mood for the entire opera. How it’s staged reflects on the
whole production. Here it unfolded against a backdrop of green light and
projected images of rain, with shadowy figures flitting from left to right.
This was interesting, but hardly enough to sustain interest for that period
of time. Nor did it vary, although the score itself is characterized by
distinct developmental phases. This was disappointing because Marc
Albrecht’s conducting shaped these changing themes very clearly, for they
define the duality that is fundamental to the whole opera.
Albrecht’s approach revealed the underlying structure. Wagner wields
leitmotivs like weapons. By juxtaposing the sailor’s cheery love songs with
the savagery of the music associated with the storm and the Dutchman, he
draws contrasts, between stability and chaos. Particularly brilliant are the
crosscurrents in Act Three, throwing the music of the village against the
music of the haunted sailors. This act depicts a “storm on land”, just as
the first depicts a storm at sea. Keeping the different ensembles distinct is
important here, and takes some sophistication. But the Royal Opera House
Chorus excels in intricate ensemble. At last the production sprang to life,
animated by the sheer vitality of the singing.
A scene from Der fliegende Holländer with Anja Kampe (Senta) in the foreground
Indeed, the role of the chorus in this opera is sometimes underplayed
since attention usually centres on the Dutchman and on Senta. The influence
of Weber still hung heavily on Wagner. Some of these choruses are reminiscent
of Der Freischütz, another tale of demonic forces. Thus
Albrecht’s vignette-like focus reflects episodic “aria” opera tradition
rather than the overwhelming sweep of late Wagner in full sail. Der
fliegende Holländer is only the first stage of the saga.
Bryn Terfel may have been the big draw, but perhaps this production will
be remembered as the moment Anja Kampe made her name. Anyone who can steal a
scene from Terfel is worth listening to. From Kampe’s small frame emanated
a voice of great power, enhanced by an understanding of Senta’s role. Even
before she meets the Dutchman, she fantasizes about him. The other women work
in a factory, but Senta is by nature a non-conformist, drawn to the wildness
that the Dutchman symbolises. No wonder she knows right away she wants him,
not Erik. Senta is the prototype of Wagner’s later heroines who equate love
with death, and who find fulfilment in redeeming others. This does reflect in
many ways Wagner’s own predicaments, but the archetype becomes wilder and
more cataclysmic. Kampe probably has the ability to make much more of such
heroines in the future, given the productions that make more of the extreme
intensity - madness, even - in these roles. She’s singing Isolde at
Glyndebourne this summer, which will be something to look forward to.