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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
19 Apr 2009
Pfitzner and Strauss by Staatskapelle Dresden
In the continuing series of releases to document the recorded legacy of the Staatskapelle Dresden, vol. 13 collects music by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss with performances from 1939 through 1944.
This CD includes Pftizner’s Symphony for Large Orchestra in C Major, Op. 46, which was recorded in January 1941 and released on LP in March of that year. Conducted by Karl Böhm, this recording captures a performance by a conductor who knew the composer firsthand. This historic release benefits from nicely restored sound, which brings an exciting performance from a single recording session. If Pfitzner is known today more for his contributions to opera, particularly Palestrina, his efforts at symphonic composition are by no means insignificant. Among his three symphonies, the Op. 46 work in C major is certainly convincing. The heroic-sounding themes suggest a post-Romantic idiom, which certainly helped to keep this and other, similar works in performance during the Third Reich, when this recording was made. This Hänssler release presents the work in a single, continuous band, which could benefit from divided into three, in order to make the three movements of the Symphony more readily accessible.
The remaining pieces in this volume are works by Richard Strauss, a composer with whom Böhm had a long association. While Böhm’s later recordings are, perhaps more familiar to modern audiences, this reissue offers solid readings from the conductor’s younger days. Consistent with Böhm’s reputation for convincing performances, the recordings demonstrate his fine sense of pacing and dynamic balance, which is apparent even in these relatively early recordings. Don Juan contains a sparkle and verve that brings a sense of immediacy to this recording. The recording techniques for this 1939 recording have a nice, direct sound, with minimal hiss and nice ambience. The virtuosity of the Staatskapelle emerges in the fine ensemble and clear playing of this recording.
Another recording from 1939, the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Strauss’s opera Salome is, perhaps, more familiar from Böhm’s later recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. In the 1939 recording, the excerpt sounds as if it were taken from a performance of the opera. The band opens with brisk tempos and prominent percussion. If the winds sound at first somewhat close to the microphones, they eventually balance the full string sonorities found later in this cut, which are nicely incisive. The percussion, especially the xylophone fit well into the full texture of the piece, and Böhm distinguishes nicely between the agitated rhythmic figure with which the dance begins, and the more romantic motives that intersect the music almost schizophrenically. The performance has a nice drive, which sets up the ending effectively.
Böhm’s performance of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche dates from 1941, and is another solid reading. This more extended piece by Strauss gives further evidence of the Staatskapelle’s fine musicianship and also its longstanding familiarity with the composer’s music. The sound is particularly effective, reflecting in some ways the kinds of sounds found in film scores of the day. Here Böhm is as engaging as he would later evince a solid connection with tradition.
The final selection, which dates from 1944, is a more popular-sounding work of Strauss, the Festliches Präludium, Op. 61. Conducted by Kurt Striegler, this work includes Hanss Ander-Donath, organ, in a work which is certainly less familiar than the other selections found on this recording. Recorded in Dresden’s Frauenkirche, the sound is more resonant than that found in the other selections, which were made in the Semperoper. The venue is appropriate for the inclusion of the organ, which can be heard, but sometimes merges into the mass of sound Strauss used in this work.
With its nice combination of familiar works with less performed literature, this recording is more than an historic curiosity. The recordings are spirited and reflect the engagement of the musicians involved with them in works that drew audiences of period to concerts. This release certainly augments the ongoing audio-documentation of the Dresden Staatskapelle with these well-chosen selections made during the Second World War.
James L. Zychowicz