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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

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Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

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Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

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Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Franz Schubert
24 Mar 2009

Franz Schubert: The Conspirators (Die Verschworenen)

Schubert was desperate to be an opera composer — or so one might surmise from the many (at least 18) attempts he made to make a name for himself as a man of the theatre.

Franz Schubert: The Conspirators (Die Verschworenen)

The Queen’s Opera, in association with Bampton Classical Opera


Given that each Schubert Lied is in many ways a ‘mini-opera’ — tightly dramatic, conveying character, situation and a gamut of emotions with immediacy and power, the ‘meaning’ expertly communicated through an intense interaction of words and music — one might have expected him to have been more successful. Unfortunately, while he understood perfectly the musico-dramatic conventions of Mozart and his contemporaries, he failed to find his Da Ponte … and repeatedly applied his musical talents to undeserving material.

However, with ‘The Conspirators’ — his sixth and final effort in Singspiel — Schubert found some posthumous success; written in 1823, it was only performed privately during his lifetime, but the public staging in 1861 was well-received and the work became a popular success. One can imagine that its wit and parody were instantly appealing to the admiring Arthur Sullivan who, in the autumn of 1867, travelled to Vienna, returning with a treasure-trove of rescued Schubert scores.

Modelled on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Schubert’s libretto, written by Ignaz Franz Castelli, presents a tale of domestic discord and sparring spouses. The original play is a comic account of one woman’s mission to end The Peloponnesian War: Lysistrata convinces the women of Athens and Sparta to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to forgo warmongering, a peace strategy that ironically inflames the battle between the sexes. Castelli updated the action - a band of Crusaders, commanded by Baron Herbert von Ludenstein, are dissuaded from continually waging war by their wives, led by the Baroness — and removed some of Aristophanes’ more explicit obscenities! This was not enough to prevent trouble with the censors, however; for somewhat obscure political reasons, they balked at the title and insisted on having the opera renamed Der Häusliche Krieg (The Domestic War). It seems Schubert’s was out of luck once again …

Sadly, in this domestic tussle, the women do not prevail; but, whatever their own feminist principles, this did not prevent the girls of Queen’s College London from presenting a delightfully entertaining, remarkably confident and outstandingly assured performance of this unjustly neglected opera.

Bampton Classical Opera has an admirable history of devising challenging educational projects which enable young singers to work with professional musicians, thereby encouraging them to aspire to, and attain, the highest standards. In this shrewdly cast production, the young soloists proved an equal match for the two professional singers, tenor Tom Raskin and baritone Edmund Connolly, who supported and encouraged the young performers sensitively throughout. Indeed, ‘The Conspirators’ seems ideally suited to young, light voices, with its sequence of lyrical solos and duets demanding not virtuosity but clarity and precision, interspersed with lively, inventive ensembles — many of which had been deftly arranged and reallocated to allow members of the chorus to step briefly into the limelight.

After the Singspiel style, the dramatic action is largely conveyed spoken dialogue. Rightly doubtful that the witticisms of the 1823 text would still pack a punch, Gilly French and Jeremy Gray also revised the text, providing a new English translation, brisk and uncluttered, which struck an effective balance between detail and dramatic momentum. Even the literal silencing, by a severe throat infection, of one of the leading ladies could not stall the show: Hannah Burns read the dialogue from the wings with fluency and naturalness, while Katya Farkas’ graceful gestures and eloquent movement aptly expressed Isella’s coyness and cunning. In the opening duet, Isella’s lines were performed by thirteen-year-old Ella Clayton who, having learned the part at extremely short notice, displayed a confidence and talent far beyond her years.

All soloists showed themselves capable of projecting a range of musical emotions. Alice Sharman, remarkably convincing as Isella’s lover, Udolin, relished the occasion and was inspired to reach the peak of her performance in her ensembles with the male professionals. Alexandra Soiza communicated both Helene’s misery and her resolution in her beautiful opening aria, in which she laments the prolongued absence of her husband, Astolf. And, as the bossy Baroness, Theodora Hand delivered a consummate musical and dramatic performance which suggested that her operatic ambitions may well be fulfilled in years to come.

Perhaps the highlight of this opera is Schubert’s ensemble writing: given the opera’s clear delineation of the sexes, he shows a genius for exchange, for phrases that call across a musical space and are answered in kind. This production made the most of such opportunities, exploiting the small stage effectively and utilising the whole performance venue to take advantage of the antiphonal and imitative writing. Indeed, the staging was extraordinarily inventive. The restricted space and budget were no hindrance to the imagination of director Jeremy Gray: a combination of neat motifs and swift gestures produced the deft visual and verbal wit which has come to characterise Bampton Classical Opera’s unfussy, sharp approach.

The chorus also included members of the College staff. And, throughout there was a sense, not just of ambition and aspiration, but of genuine enjoyment and fun — a joy which was shared and conveyed by the small accompanying ensemble under the assured baton of Gilly French. A delightful evening.

Claire Seymour

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