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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



G. Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
26 Apr 2009

Barbers in Baghdad and Seville

Razor-wielding rascals involve themselves in romantic complications in the two sets considered here, with a fine performance of a rarity and an even finer performance of a classic.

G. Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Alceo Galliera, Tito Gobbi, Luigi Alva, Nicola Zaccaria, Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra, Philharmonia Chorus, Tito Gobbi, Gabriella Carturan, Mario Carlin, Maria Callas, Fritz Ollendorff.

EMI Classics 0094639204151 [2CDs]

$25.99  Click to buy

From the archives of the Cologne Radio — aka, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln — Profil has rescued a 1974 performance of Peter Cornelius’s Der Barbier von Bagdad. A protégé of Franz Liszt, Cornelius both benefited and suffered from the great man’s influence. Liszt promoted Cornelius’s work and conducted the premiere of his comic opera in 1858. However, by that point Liszt had already made a fair number of enemies, and they came to hiss down both the conductor and the opera of Cornelius. Only long after Cornelius’s death did his opera find some audiences, although it has never really threatened to enter the standard repertory.

Cornelius_Barbier.gifLothar Brandt, the author of the German program note which J & M Berridge translated into English, takes the interesting tack of arguing that the very old-fashionedness of both Cornelius’s music and the libretto makes Der Barbier von Bagdad “cool.” Cornelius barely makes any effort to introduce any “Oriental” aspects to his pleasant, very conservative score, and the story is a harmless bauble, adapted from The Arabian Nights. Apparently Brandt sees the opera as so “uncool,” it is “cool.” Maybe. It would take a ripping tune or two to make the score more memorable. With no texts provided, judging the success of the work dramatically will elude the non-German speaker. However, most of the scenes seem to have relatively little character interaction, and the comic energy that percolates throughout Rossini’s masterpiece on the “barber” theme raises not a crackle here.

Ferdinand Leitner, seemingly motivated by a sincere love for the music, gives it first-class treatment, along with an excellent cast. Hans Sotin brings comic flair to the title role, and as the requisite young lovers, Helen Donath and Horst R. Laubenthal make a sweet pair. The sound is clean. Profil needs to stop providing track listings only on the back of the jewel cases, a user-unfriendly arrangement.

EMI Classics, meanwhile, reissues in its Great Recordings of the Century series the Callas/Gobbi Il barbiere di Siviglia, conducted by Alceo Galliera. The opera has a rich recording history, but this set is special, mostly thanks to its two stars. Not everyone appreciates Gobbi’s vocal gifts, which can tend to the dry side, but his ability to characterize as he sings is unparalleled. This Figaro works his wiles with cunning charm.

And not everyone always appreciates Maria Callas, either, but here she is everything her besotted admirers claim her to be. The voice is steady, alluring, distinctive. She has full technical control of every aspect of the score. Even her somewhat calculated effects, like the ostentatiously delayed delivery of that “ma” in “Una voce poco fa,” can be tied to the character of Rosina, a young lady far smarter and in control that is sometimes portrayed. Callas easily posses center stage when her solo turns come, and just as importantly, she easily rejoins the ensemble as necessary too. For her alone, the recording earns its “GROTC” label.

Luigi Alva sings sweetly enough, although the arias don’t quite pull together. The tone eerily brings to mind at times today’s leading exponent of Almaviva, Juan Diego Florez.

Conductor Galliera supports the singers to the point of indulgence. The end of act one brings the best of his efforts, with a very theatrical, vivacious reading. Some other spots feel more studio-bound. The remastering is excellent, and EMI provides a very nice booklet, slim and yet with a bilingual text.

So the Cornelius makes for an amiable byway, and the Callas/Gobbi makes a well-trod path fresh again. Go which way you please, reader.

Chris Mullins

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