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Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
05 Mar 2009
Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)
Recorded on 9 November 1959 at Symphony Hall (now Symphony Center), this recent issue of a classic performed of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde translates the then state-of-the-art RCA “Living Stereo” sound for the LP vinyl medium to the enhanced sound currently available in SACD format.
As John Newton comments in the notes about the audio technology used in this new release, the quality of the original record was excellent from the start, and that allows for enhancements, rather than restoration in bringing the almost legendary American recording to the twenty-first century. The razor-blades that sound engineers used in 1959 to edit tapes were the best tools available then, but such physical means have given way to digital ones, and the results are evident in this fine issue.
When RCA originally released this recording of Das Lied von der Erde, relatively few recordings were available on LP, but those included the monumental performance of Kathleen Ferrier and Julius Patzak, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bruno Walter. Comparisons of these two great recordings are futile, but they represent two of the finest performances of Das Lied von der Erde on disc. Ferrier’s performance is unquestionably moving, and Forester represents another impressive interpretation of the part. It is fortunate to have the fine recording with Ferrier and Patzak conducted by Walter, the musician responsible for the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde after Mahler’s death. With Reiner’s recording, though, both singers would continue with their careers for years to come. Forester and Lewis would appear again in Das Lied von der Erde in a concert on 16 April1960 at Carnegie Hall, in a performance of the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra led by Bruno Walter. That performance is available on CD, but does not have the sonic presence of the one with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Almost a decade later, in 1967, Forester and Lewis would also recording Das Lied von der Erde with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Georg Szell, but those later performances are not esteemed as highly as the one with Reiner and now reissued in SACD format.
While Reiner’s name is not often included with others of his generation when it comes to performing Mahler’s music, his interpretation of Das Lied von der Erde stands out among his efforts as an impressively persuasive. He brought to the score the virtuosity of the Chicago Symphony and with it came the fine sonic ambience of Orchestra Hall and the recording techniques of RCA, which were the most advanced of the day. The result is a vibrant orchestra sound, with the individual colors of the ensemble emerging readily under Reiner’s leadership. Without a question the Chicago Symphony has a fine blend, but it is possible to hear more distinctly some of the specific sounds in Mahler’s score. From the outset the sound is vibrant, with the horns in the opening passage ringing out the repeated notes that signal the gesture with which the piece begins. Likewise, the characteristic hollow sound of the woodwinds that follows demonstrates the reason that Mahler used those colors in the passage. The eighth-note figures that underscore the vocal line are articulated cleanly, with appropriate separation between them, and the sudden entrances that punctuate some of the phrases in the first piece have a nice resonance. With Lewis, his performance of the ”Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” is impressive, with his diction matching his fine expression, with the descending slide that occurs near the end of the movement beautifully executed. It is unfortunate that some passages of “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (mistranslated in the liner notes as “Wine in Spring” as is “Der Einsame im Herbst” as “Autumn Loneliness” rather than “The Lonely One in Autumn”) show some strain. With the middle of the three tenor pieces, “Von der Jugend” (“About Youth”) the understated tone is entirely appropriate to this number and Lewis conveys the sense of youthfulness implicit in the text.
Maureen Forester brings a full, rich, dark sound to the contralto pieces, and her vibrant voice never blurs. The open tones at the beginning of “Der einsame im Herbst” are engaging, as she blends well with the orchestra as if she were part of a smaller ensemble. This recording captures the sound well so that it is difficult to mistake her distinctive voice in this setting from Hans Bethge’s Chinesische Flöte. Yet with “Von der Schönheit” (“About Beauty”) Forester captures the sense of drama by differentiating so well between the introverted opening section and the more assertive central portion of the song. The full rein of the Chicago Symphony is evident in the middle of the movement, which stands out for its bold statement of exoticism. Yet both Reiner and Forester restrain the ending appropriately and masterfully. In many ways, though, “Der Abschied” poses musical and interpretive challenges for even the finest performers, which Reiner and Forester meet with remarkable style and conviction. After the percussive opening of the movement, Forester is almost subdued in presenting the text. She builds on that opening gradually, and as the first part of “Der Abschied” ends, she is fervent, with a warm, rich approach that stands in contrast to the earlier portion of the movement. In the second half of the movement Forester moves away from this and makes audible the sense of confident resignation found in the text. Her intonation of the final portion of “Der Abschied” is convincing, with Reiner’s command of the Chicago Symphony evident in the finely played conclusion.
With over 50 recordings of Das Lied von der Erde available on CD, a number of fine performances are available. The release of this particular one, though, makes a classic interpretation available for new audiences to enjoy. The already fine sound of the original LP is reinforced in this newly issued CD, which does not merely present what was on the famous LP, but is a reshaping of the original recorded sound. As familiar as the LP may be to some, the CD merits attention, not only as a classic recording, but as a perpetually effective one.
James L. Zychowicz