Recently in Reviews
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
07 Apr 2009
Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci at the MET
The current revival of Cav and Pag at the Met went off like clockwork, with all the comfort and reliability that implies for a repertory house and all the success these tried and true verismo stalwarts merit.
No one was under par but there were very few surprises, few thrills or
chills. But each opera did conceal one surprise — one shock — one
small but significant vocal revelation — that made the evening other than
The spotlight on the curtain just before it rose on Franco
Zeffirelli’s almost too-accurate Sicilian mountain village drew from us
soft gasps of alarm, but it was just an announcement that José Cura, though
suffering from a cold, would be singing both leading tenor roles in any case.
(Domingo, his mentor, used to make such announcements all the time in the
’70s.) In the event, his opening serenade did indeed sound labored
— but when was the last time you heard any tenor, even in the pink of
health, sing that aria of sated love with an easy, leggiero line? For the rest
of the night he was fine, a bit gruff — as he usually is — and with
no ringing at the top, which some might miss. It’s a perfectly decent way
to put these parts over. Gigli fans will mourn, but he’s been dead a long
Ildikó Komlósi as Santuzza and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
I was interested in the ladies of the evening. Ildikó Komlósi sang the most
mellow-sounding Herodias of my experience last fall — no
eldritch screamer but a chic, handsome hostess having trouble controlling her
adolescent daughter — and I wondered how that enjoyable take on Strauss
would translate to Mascagni’s tormented peasant. Komlósi is a fine
actress, and hurled herself about the story and the stage, but her essentially
lyric instrument (though she also sings Amneris and Eboli, which call for
power) did not at first warm to its task, to the expression of desperation
— Santuzza is always on the verge of hysteria, she says nothing calmly,
she opens her mouth and her whole anguished life is in her utterances.
Komlósi’s beautiful voice and Germanic (okay, Hungarian) vibrato are
pleasing, but she did not become intense until the duets with Cura and Alberto
Mastromarino’s dry, not very threatening Alfio pushed her to forget
herself and go wild. Santuzza has tripped up many experienced singers; I did
not feel she had it quite down, but she is a voice and an artist of
No part is too small for Jane Bunnell to make it interesting — on such
character performers do repertory companies rely, and her dignified Mamma Lucia
was a pleasure. But then out came Lola, a youngster from the Met’s
Lindemann Young Artists’s Program, one Ginger Costa Jackson, tall, slim,
very pretty, a bit too whorish about the sashay (an error made by too many
Lolas — she’s a respectable wife in a prudish small town, and no
one but Santuzza suspects she’s anything else), but — the voice! No
light mezzo here (as one is used to), but a deep, penetrating, perfectly
produced contralto with exciting colors. She would make quite an effect in a
range of Handel roles, trouser or otherwise.
Jane Bunnell as Mamma Lucia and José Cura as Canio in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.
The lady in Pagliacci — there’s only one, remember
— was Nuccia Focile, a charming soubrette in the past (an adorable
Despina in Cosí fan tutte), who sang a mediocre Nedda, the voice
unsupported, the coloratura imprecise in both “Stridono lassu” and
the play-within-the-play. The only time she rose to the demands of this
curious, death-defying figure was during her impassioned love duet with Silvio
— and here was the evening’s second surprise: Christopher Maltman.
This striking and sexy British baritone, a noted lieder singer as well as a
Billy Budd and a specialist in Mozart roles, filled the house with an easy,
dark, focused, thrilling baritone and was an equally thrilling actor. Too, he
sang with the most perfect Italian enunciation of the night. This is a voice
with star quality and a rare musical intelligence, a singer one is eager to
hear again in a dozen roles or in recital. Beside him, Cura and Mastromarino,
the evening’s Canio and Tonio, sounded effective but ordinary —
they wrung no sobs from me.
Pietro Rizzo had a firm hand on the dramatic flow of the evening in the pit;
the resonant celli seemed especially to flower, and I clearly heard echoes of
Wagner in Pagliacci, whenever Tonio was conniving. The Zeffirelli
staging with all its animals and all its children and all its gradual dawn and
sunset lighting changes and all its clowning extras gives audiences a notion of
what grand opera used to be about, and why young directors have been so eager
to change it. A ringing Canio, a gutsy Santuzza and a real Nedda would make it