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Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
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.
30 Mar 2009
Magdalena Kožená shines in Martinů’s Juliette at the Barbican, London
Many works by Martinů will be performed in this year’s commemoration of the anniversary of his death, but it would be hard to equal the impact of this performance. Much of its success was due to Kožená, whose presence illuminated the whole opera, even though her moments on stage were fleeting.
A man arrives in a strange village where nothing seems quite right. The
villagers have no memories to bind them to reality, so things unfold without
sense or connection. But what is reality? The opera’s subtitle is
“The Key to Dreams”, which implies a search for meaning, whether or
not it can be unlocked.
From the orchestra emerges a lovely, haunting melody. The man thinks
he’s heard it before, connected to a vague memory - a beautiful woman ?
He’s determined to pursue the dream which seems to fade as fast as it
unfolds. The woman is Juliette, shining bright and golden, “like a star
in the firmament”.
Deeper the man goes, into a dark forest, where he meets a Seller of
Memories, who sells photographs of exotic places. The man buys into the images,
convinced that they show his past with the woman he’s searching for.
Eventually the man finds himself in The Central Office of Dreams which people
enter and leave when they sleep. On ferme! warns the nightwatchman
(who was also the Seller of Dreams). Wake or you’re forever trapped! But
Juliette is such a powerful, seductive dream that the man would rather remain
in eternal limbo than lose her.
Bohuslav Martinů’s Juliette materialized at the
Barbican, London, in a new edition of the urtext, using the French version the
composer wrote on his deathbed in 1959. He lived most of his creative life in
France, so it’s perhaps poignant that he should return to his masterpiece
in this way.
Hardly any staging was needed, for the action unfolds like a dream, utterly
adrift from rules of cause and logic. Indeed, what narrative there is lurks in
the music. The orchestral writing is densely vivid but at critical moments the
density clears and a solo instrument takes centre stage. At first, it’s
an accordion, then horn, clarinet and oboe, then a particularly evocative
melody on piano which surrounds Juliette’s entries. It’s like in
dreams where a single image comes into focus, like symbolic portent. Each time
Juliette’s music returns, impressions deepen and become frustratingly
familiar. Have we heard it before ? And where ? In dreams, the mind fixes on
details and follows their trail. Martinů uses allusions from music as
tantalizing clues. There’s a snippet from L’Histoire du
Soldat, just before the Fortune teller scatters cards. Then, a quotation
from L’Après-midi d’un Faune, evoking a mood of frustrated
love and longing. Similarly, Martinů uses off stage noises and singing.
Even when asleep, the mind hears what’s happening “outside”
so to speak. At any moment the dreamer might be woken, the dream shattered.
It’s psychologically astute, building dramatic tension into the very
fabric of the music.
Jiří Bělohlávek has a specially sensitive feel for this elusive,
mysterious music, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard his
Janaček or Dvořák. This performance was as good as the superlative
Excursions of Mr Brouček last year, which he conducted with the
same forces, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers. This production was also
directed by Kenneth Richardson, who made such magic with the concert staging of
Mr Brouček. Richardson’s intelligent, subtle style
achieves great things by simple means. The forest, for example, is created by
light and shadow, yet feels impressively alive.
Kožená was outstanding. Visually and vocally she glowed. While all the
cast was good, she was exceptional, for Juliette is in an altogether more
exalted league than ordinary mortals. Kožená’s fees might normally
exceed the other singers fees put together, but here she was utterly worth it,
for her presence embodied all that Juliette stands for. The role is so
important that the whole opera rests on how well it is realized. Kožená
has long championed Martinů’s music, so this magnificent
performance was a great tribute.
William Burden sings Michel, the protagonist. It’s a long, demanding
role which he carries off with aplomb. Also familiar to those who loved Mr
Brouček was Zdeněk Plech, who made the relatively small role
of The Old Arab/Sailor so interesting that you wished the composer had
developed it further. Roderick Williams sang no less than four roles, including
the pivotal Seller of Memories. He acts as well as he sings, and is certainly
one of the brightest young British stars of his generation. When will he get
the profile he deserves ? Andreas Jäggi’s Clerk was suitably tense and
There are only two available recordings of Julietta, and the
classic version is nearly 50 years old. Let’s hope this performance,
which was recorded by the BBC, will make it to CD/DVD. Bělohlávek’s
recording of Mr Brouček won the Gramophone award for best Opera
in 2008, so perhaps this new Juliette will do the same.