Recently in Reviews
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
05 Mar 2009
La bohème — English National Opera
Jonathan Miller's new production of Puccini's wintry opera was denied its planned opening night on Monday 2nd February by a bout of unusually heavy snow which brought most of London's transport services to a halt and turned it into a virtual ghost town (thus, up the road at Covent Garden, the cancellation of a performance of Korngold's 'Die tote Stadt' was equally ironic).
As a staging, it has all the hallmarks of a future classic of the ENO repertoire. Isabella Bywater’s naturalistic set is as easy on the eye as Amanda Holden’s fluid new translation is on the ear, while Jean Kalman’s lighting handsomely sets off the wide attic windows and silhouetted rooftops. Fast-forward a couple of seasons to an above-average revival; the rough edges of the staging will have been smoothed over, the perfect cast will be engaged, and everything will ‘click’. The previous production - which was less distinctive than this - was memorable thanks to a succession of lively and well-matched ensembles of soloists.
That, alas, was what this new production lacked. As Mimì, the sweet but pallid soprano of the American soprano Melody Moore lacked warmth and passion; Alfie Boe was a fine Rodolfo a few years ago at Glyndebourne, but that’s a much smaller house, and his is not a large voice - he was frequently swallowed up by the orchestral texture. But a much greater problem was their credibility as a couple, with almost no chemistry between them. Admittedly the costumes were unhelpful: Moore has youth on her side, but a dowdy wig and unflattering dresses made her matronly and plain, not to mention improbably strong and healthy for a fragile heroine whose very identity is defined by a diminutive pet-name. In comparison to the small-framed Boe’s amiable and boyish Rodolfo, Moore’s Mimì seemed like a sensible elder sister.
Hanan Alattar (Musetta)
Alfie Boe (Rodolfo)
Musetta, Hanan Alattar, somehow failed to dominate Act 2, and her sharply focused soprano remained pert and hard-edged right up to the end, though her characterisation gained in warmth and was quite touching. Best among the soloists was the congenial, warm-voiced Roland Wood as Marcello, and Pauls Putninš’ distinctive bass brought considerable pathos to Colline.
The set - with buildings that revolve into various configurations to create the various locations - evokes a down-at-heel 1930s Paris. Appropriately, the garret scenes take place on an upper level, which caused a few acoustic issues from where I was sitting in the Stalls. The cast were sometimes overwhelmed by the orchestra, particularly in the fast-moving banter of Act 1. It wasn’t until Act 3, when the soloists are at ground level and not lost in the ensemble, that the vocal projection was really satisfactory. The split level creates a dramatic issue too, with the staircase up to the Bohemians’ doorway forming the focal point of the set: none of the entrances are a surprise, from Benoit’s in Act 1 to Musetta’s in Act 4. The sole purpose of its central placement seems to be to throw focus on Schaunard (David Stout) towards the end as he leaves Rodolfo and Mimì alone.
Alfie Boe (Rodolfo), Melody Moore (Mimì), David Stout (Schaunard), Pauls Putnins (Colline), Roland Wood (Marcello)
In his house debut, conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya gave a musically competent, lucid reading, but it was short on warmth and there was little sense of connection between pit and stage.
I mustn’t ignore the positives: Simon Butteriss’s sleazy Benoit was a highly entertaining cameo, and Act 3 was really well-staged, with well-directed cameos from members of the chorus and (finally) some believable emotional interplay between the two couples. But at the end of the evening, though I found myself sorry for Mimì’s death, I was quite indifferent to Rodolfo’s loss. If only I could have believed they were ever in love.
Ruth Elleson © 2009