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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

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Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.



Paul Robeson: The EMI Sessions 1928-1940
25 Mar 2009

Paul Robeson: The Complete EMI Sessions 1928-1939

Seven discs, of 170 tracks, amounting to over eight hours of music - this EMI set somehow manages to be both voluminous and narrow in its portrait of Paul Robeson.

Paul Robeson: The EMI Sessions 1928-1940

Paul Robeson

EMI Classics 2 15586 2 [7CDs]

$85.98   Click to buy

All recorded in the UK (mostly London), the selections cover musicals, gospel, and classical composers. Somehow, the totality of the listening experience conveys the sense of a talented vocalist trapped by the darker currents of American history in an artistic whirlpool, striving to present the best qualities of his voice but frequently swamped by racist expectations and a felt obligation to his people and their history.

The first of three versions of “Ol’ Man River” opens disc one, with Robeson’s voice coming in almost immediately. The tempo initially feels rushed, though that may well have been necessary to accommodate the 1928 recording process. The setting puts voices first (Robeson’s and those of the Drury Lane chorus), and Robeson projects the pathos of the song even within the oddly peppy arrangement. The 1931 version on disc two is even more discombobulating, with the almost cheerful band behind Robeson singing the version of the verse that employs the “n-word.” Startling at first, in context it makes sense, as the lyric goes on to plead “let me get away from the white man boss.” In fact, throughout the seven discs, the selections almost serve to offer a musical history of post-slavery African-American life, with the memory of the plantation fresh. Even the gospel songs focus on trials and tribulations, and the hope for a heavenly refuge. Somehow the innate dignity and security of Robeson’s vocals commands respect, even in titles such as “De li’l piccaninny’s gone to sleep.”

The third version of “Ol’ Man River” comes from the 1936 film soundtrack, where the recording strangely carries more surface noise than many of the earlier selections. In this lyric, “darkies” takes the place of the ostensibly more objectionable term, although the sheer frequency of “darkies” through these seven discs is disheartening, if not enraging. So it comes as a relief to hear Robeson take on great Duke Ellington songs such as “Solitude” and “Mood Indigo.” Even more interesting is to hear Robeson, who visited the Soviet Union, take on the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” and a Mussorgsky song translated as “After the Battle.” Disc seven is a surprising assortment of British songs and adaptations, including a setting of Blake’s “The little black boy” and Mendelssohn’s “Lord God of Abraham.” Robeson had apparently spent so much time in the UK by this point (1939) that his voice has accumulated some somewhat affected pronunciations, including rolled r’s.

It would have been out of order chronologically, but the end of disc five might have been a better way to leave this survey of Robeson’s 1930s’ career. Robeson offers an affecting, simple “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” and then reads the text of Langston Hughes’s “Minstrel man.” The side ends with a sentimental lament, “The Wanderer,” which captures in its essence the story of a great American artist who spent so much of the prime of his career outside the U.S.A.

EMI’s box set consists of the seven discs in individual slip cases (all with identical covers except the number of the disc) and a booklet containing detailed track information and a fairly brief but respectful note by Patrick O’Connor.

A disc or two of highlights from these years of recordings would do well for most anyone interested in this remarkable artist, but EMI earns thanks for making so much more available for anyone who wants the most complete portrait possible.

Chris Mullins

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