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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.

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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Songs by Samuel Barber
22 Mar 2009

Songs by Samuel Barber

Among the impressive contributions to the American song literature of the twentieth century are works by Samuel Barber (1910-81), whose efforts in this genre reflect his own musical training as a singer, as well as the influence of his aunt, Louise Homer, whose professional relationships put her nephew in contact with other vocalists of the day.

Songs by Samuel Barber

Gerald Finley, baritone; Julius Drake, piano.

Hyperion CDA 67528

$17.99  Click to buy

Among Barber’s contributions are a number of sets of songs from throughout his career, works that are heard periodically in performance and available in various recordings. This selection by Gerald Finley and Julius Drake offers a fine cross-section of Barber’s songs on a single CD and collects his set of Hermit Songs, Op. 29; Mélodies passagères, Op. 27; Three Songs, Op. 10; Dover Beach, Op. 3; and several individual songs. Lacking, of course, Knoxville 1915, Op. 24, since it was intended for soprano and orchestra (albeit performed by tenor), this recording of Barber’s song is a rich selection which captures the composer’s major efforts in the genre in interpretations by two of the finest performers of the day.

The spiritual aspects of the Hermit Songs implicit in the texts require the clear and fervent execution Finley and Drake offer. With texts from various sources, primarily translations of Medieval verse, the turns of phrases in modern English are nicely supported by Barber’s music. The plaintive quality of “The Crucifixion” reflects simultaneously the vocal idiom of an earlier time and yet the dissonant idiom that Barber used to punctuate the music contributes to the welcome complexity of the song. Julius Drake’s approach to the accompaniment of this song and the one that succeeds it in the recording, “Sea Snatch” by making the pianistic touches work well with Gerald Finley’s sensitive interpretations of the works. Such details emerge aptly in Finley’s delivery, not only in shorter settings, like “St. Ita’s Vision” (translated by Chester Kallman) but also in one of the more extended songs, “The Monk and His Cat” (translated by W. H. Auden). One of the particularly moving performances is that of “The Desire for Hermitage” (translated by Seán O’Faoláin), which, as the culmination of the cycle, serves as a kind of summary of the entire set.

The sometimes angular settings of English-language translations receipt apt settings by Barber, but his craft at composing the French artsong is apparent in the set of Mélodies passagères, which are based on verse by Rainer Maria Rilke. These sometimes enigmatic poems bear rehearing for the nuances of the texts, and Finley’s approach invites returns to the songs to capture some of the details he and Drake bring to the music. “Un cynge” (“A swan”) receives its appropriate delicacy, a quality implicit in the music and effectively rendered in this performance. The subtle accompaniment works well with Finley’s sinuous approach to the text. Yet the entire set merits attention for the well-placed details that beg for a repeated hearings not only of the music, but also this compelling performance.

In addition to these pieces, the performers include a selection of Barber’s earlier songs on this recording. Some of the music is quite familiar from vocal recitals of various performers, as is the case with “Sure on Thdsis Shining Night,” a work that receives fresh treatment from Finley and Drake. The pacing of the vocal line and accompaniment are key to the interpretation found here, with model phrasing between the strophes of the verse. Equally impressive is Barber’s early masterpiece, Dover Beach, which involves the Aronowitz Ensemble. Part of the select vocal repertoire which involves chamber music, like Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), Dover Beach retains a special place in vocal literature. The maturity that Finley brings to the work is clear from the start, and as the piece progresses, the performance demonstrates an incredible level of involvement.

In this piece and the others on the recording, Finley shows himself to be a major interpreter of Barber’s music. Just as he is impressive on stage in such a powerful role as Robert Oppenheimer in John Adams’ opera Doctor Atomic, Finley is also commanding in the more intimate solo vocal literature. This is a fine addition to recent recordings of twentieth-century song, and also an impressive contribution to the discography of Samuel Barber.

James L. Zychowicz

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