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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.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
19 Apr 2009
John Mark Ainsley Sings Schubert at Jerwood Hall, London
Schubert’s music ‘suggests a rippling movement and by the side of the rippling a flowering: it has the variety and unsurprising naturalness of moving water and springing herb’ (Capell) and this same naturalness and sense of flowing ease are the very qualities which make John Mark Ainsley such a special interpreter of this composer.
Ainsley has been singing and recording Schubert for some 17 years now, and in place of the youthful ardour which characterized his early performances we now find a deeper, more subtle understanding, yet still with his distinctive tenderness and perfect balance between ‘Ton und Wort.’ His recent major successes on the operatic stage seem to have informed his interpretations to a very marked degree, especially in the more tempestuous songs.
This carefully designed programme had enough of the more ‘charming’ songs to please the casual listener, yet the finest singing (and playing) came in those set to the intense, melancholy poetry of Mayrhofer. ‘Atys’ is an unjustly neglected song, its fervid telling of the story of the youth driven to madness, castration and suicide by the goddess Cybele not exactly ideal material for lunchtime, but in this performance the ‘unergründlicher Schmerz’ was made real in singing replete with subtlety as well as fervour. ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ is one of Mayrhofer’s more serene lyrics, and Schubert’s exquisite setting of it drew from Ainsley the most perfect mezza-voce, secure legato line and sense of reverence for the music’s natural phrasing.
As a rule, I can live quite happily without tenors singing the likes of ‘Wilkommen und Abschied’ and ‘Auf der Bruck,’ but here we were treated to performances which concentrated much less on the hearty, ‘I—have—a jolly—horse’ aspects and much more on the dramatic narratives. The lines ‘Und Zärtlichkeit für mich—Ihr Götter! / Ich hofft’ es, ich verdient’ es nicht!’ (Tenderness, for me? Ye Gods! I hoped for that, but didn’t deserve it!’) in the former were sung with the kind of heartfelt openness which always endears a singer to an audience, and in the latter the intensity of the ride was finely assuaged with a last line in which the phrase ‘süsses Ahnen’ was given just enough intensity to make it moving, but without any false swagger or artifice. Roger Vignoles played the rapid chords as though they were the easiest music ever composed.
‘Die Sterne’ was for me the high point of the recital, with such perfect legato line, such sensitivity to the words and such, for want of a better term, ‘Innigkeit,’ that it’s hard to imagine a better performance of this wonderful song. We came back to Mayrhofer again for the encore, with ‘Erlafsee’ an ideal choice to close a programme so finely balanced between ‘wohl’ and ‘weh.’ This first in a series of Schubert recitals will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Tuesday May 12th at 1.00, with the remaining recitals performed on Thursdays April 23rd and 30th and May 7th.