Recently in Reviews
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’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
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.