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An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. .
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
01 Apr 2009
Handel & Purcell on Special Offer at Covent Garden
If combining the anniversaries of both Purcell and Handel in one production at the Royal Opera was something of a master-stroke, then getting the Royal Ballet in on the act must have seemed to be verging on the brilliant from a commercial point of view.
There are plenty of die-hard Handelians in London, a
lesser number (we may presume) of passionate Purcellians, and undoubtedly
droves of those devoted to the dance — so one can only imagine the glee
with which this project was seized upon in the board rooms of Covent Garden.
With Dido running to just sixty minutes and Acis to ninety,
together they made up a most satisfying sandwich of English baroque music at
its most melodious.
Royal Ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor had already shown his work with
Dido & Aeneas at La Scala in 2006, so it was only the direction
and dance elements for Acis & Galatea that were actually new on
the 31st March, and he had a starry cast of singers to work on both
productions, as well as his colleagues from the Ballet. In the event there were
disappointments as well as delights on the vocal front, and not a little
puzzlement regarding the dance.
In Purcell’s Dido, Connolly’s technical assurance,
(this role’s tessitura seems to suit ideally) and her total psychological
immersion in the role gained from her recent performances and recording, should
have enabled her to delineate every nuance of the doomed Queen’s journey
from delight in her new love to the final, cathartic acceptance of his
betrayal. However, an announced indisposition (a throat infection) prevented
her from fully realising the role in a way that might have been expected. She
struggled to colour and project in the first Acts, and only managed to give us
a glimpse of what might have been in the final, celebrated “When I am
laid in earth…” A full recovery in time for the succeeding dates
is to be sincerely wished.
Lucas Meacham, baritone, as the perfidious Aeneas, managed to convey some of
the vacillating aspects of his character, but his effortful singing and lack of
period style was noticeable. In stark and welcome contrast was the stylish,
agile soprano of Lucy Crowe who gave us a youthfully-blooming and bell-like
Belinda which promises much for the later classical repertoire as well as
further major Handelian roles. This dramatically rather ambiguous
character’s music was delivered with intelligence. The lesser roles were
again variable: Sara Fulgoni mangled the vowels of the Sorceress to a degree
that really isn’t on with Purcell at this venue (she sang in the La Scala
production where one assumes it wasn’t noticed so much) and didn’t
convince as the evil manipulator of the whole drama. Her young witches Eri
Nakamura and Pumeza Matshikiza sang brightly with better diction, but were
costumed as if just off a London catwalk. Far too nice. Young English
countertenor Iestyn Davies was a welcome newcomer to ROH, singing his twelve
bars as the Spirit from off-stage somewhere, but with clean attack, good
full-throated projection and clear diction. Anita Watson sang the one aria of
the Second Woman and Ji-Min Park the Sailor’s; the latter with
commendable style and tone. Throughout, the Chorus was excellent in both
diction and ensemble and their essential role in this drama was not only
underlined but showcased in an entirely proper way.
Sara Fulgoni as Sorceress & Eri Nakamura as First Witch & Pumeza Matshikiza as Second Witch
Seeing the added choreography for the first time neither added nor
particularly detracted from the whole — the dancers seemed to be
colouring-in the musical interludes and choruses rather than saying anything
very much new about the drama. The classical, spare set worked well and gave
all performers room to move and lighting filled in the nuances of the drama.
Less convincing were the choreographic elements of Wayne McGregor’s
handling of Handel’s Acis. McGregor has, he says, tried to not
just mirror the action of this pastoral masque, (or serenata), but to try to
access the “meanings” of the drama through the use of dance-imagery
— his famously angular patterns trying to elucidate the tensions between
the “present” reality of the drama and a more fragile emotional
reality. Each singer had either a single or couple of dancers (in as-naked
body-stockings) as their alter-egos and it was necessary to accept this extra
dimension to the operatic experience if one was to gain such insight. This
writer couldn’t, but others may.
Danielle de Niese as Galatea & Charles Workman as Acis
It was good to see Charles Workman back on an English stage in the title
role. His Handel, up to now, has been limited to just four roles as he’s
been in demand on the continent for his Rossini and Mozart, but on this showing
we might expect to see more of him here. Acis lies high in the lyrical
tenor’s range, and Workman was indeed working hard from time to time, but
his elegance of phrasing and good line in such deceptively difficult arias as
“Love in her eyes sits playing…” was a delight. Even more
noticeable, and welcome, was his ability to combine Handelian style with plenty
of vocal power; his full and ringing tone was a highlight of the whole
evening’s double bill and he also received the only spontaneous post-aria
applause after a sterling “Love sounds th’alarm”. Matching
him in the style stakes, if not the dynamics, was the veteran period performer
Paul Agnew who wove lovely phrases around Damon’s bewitchingly melodic
Ji-Min Park as Coridon, Lauren Cuthbertson as Galatea and Paul Kay as Coridon
Workman’s fellow American, the glamorous Danielle de Niese, has built
up a considerable (would it be churlish to suggest mainly male?) following in
Handel in recent years. But Galatea is no Cleopatra, and de Niese was called
upon to realise a very different heroine here. Curiously decked out in black
and white, with a bright red scarf and peroxide blonde wig with plaits, she
looked like a particularly exotic Heidi and occasionally acted like one. Her
soprano is well schooled and flexible and in her middle range she approaches a
really beautiful tone. Her carefully prepared trills and ornaments were
beautifully placed and “As when the dove….” was prettily
sung, but a hardness creeps in when she goes high above the staff. This can
reduce the impact of such delicate and affecting arias as “Heart, the
seat of soft delight” which is a shame as this is what this role is all
Another throat-sufferer pre-announced was bass Matthew Rose as the giant
Polyphemus, who made his entrances along a curious but clever
“Giant’s Causeway” of mock-basaltic rocks. His singing was
not too badly affected and was rounded and smooth without any bark or growl.
Whether McGregor’s direction of him worked is debateable. He seemed
strangely awkward at times — and was required to walk off stage rather
tamely after a perfunctory killing of the noble Acis with a very small rock.
Ji-Min Park again sang — this time the one aria of Coridon — and
again showed a pleasing tone and style.
Matthew Rose as Polyphemus & Danielle de Niese as Galatea
Also repeating success, and if anything surpassing themselves, was the Royal
Opera Extra Chorus who had more acting to do and who sang with assurance and
relish. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under veteran Christopher
Hogwood presided at each “opera” — and after some initial
intonation variations they settled down to give a polished reading of both,
with Anthony Robson’s oboe particularly expressive and stylish. This
wasn’t a cutting-edge period performance, but then neither were the
productions. What Covent Garden’s first night full house certainly got
was value for money — whether it’s the way forward for such baroque
gems is another matter.
Sue Loder © 2009