Recently in Reviews
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
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.
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.
22 May 2009
Don Carlos — Opera North, Leeds
Tim Albery’s production was first seen at Opera North in 1993 and has not been revived since 1998, when it was the first production of this opera I ever saw — an English-sung version of the four-act Italian version.
In the interests of context I would always favour five acts, not only for the background to Carlos’s meeting with Elisabeth, but for a fuller introduction to the character of Elisabeth who can be reduced almost to a cipher in the shorter version. But the four-act version is the tauter piece, and in the right hands has the potential to create the greater dramatic impact.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth
Hildegard Bechtler’s sets are austere and claustrophobic, the stage dominated by vast stone walls; even the sun-filled garden outside the cloister is hemmed in and inescapable. When the stage is dark, it is really dark: in the opening and closing scenes at San Giuste, there are times when unmoving figures are barely discernible. A pale grey curtain with a square aperture allows every scene to begin with a framed ‘thumbnail’, a trick which proves effective in clarifying and distilling each dramatic situation. Although the frequent and prolonged scene changes (the vast walls take some time to reconfigure) break up the pace somewhat, the intensity of each scene was such that I welcomed the opportunity to recover. Nothing here is empty spectacle - it is all cleanly focused, and there is no fat on the bones.
There was one particular bone upon which a little more fat would have been welcome. While the theatre’s superb acoustic enhances the volume of the orchestra and soloists, the start of the auto-da-fé scene should be a grand ensemble, and Opera North’s chorus simply sounded as if they would have benefited from a few more extras.
Julian Gavin sang the title role in the 1998 revival, and 11 years on he is no less credible as the young prince. His voice still has that urgent quality which captures Carlos’s angst, but now it’s combined with an open-throated evenness of tone which is really exciting to listen to.
From the start, Brindley Sherratt’s Philip II always seems rather cowed by the burden of responsibility, pale-faced and worn in the plain black costume which makes him look rather small and all too human. His dryish bass, too, captures well a disillusioned monarch who is comparatively easily overcome by the Grand Inquisitor - Clive Bayley, another returner from the 1998 revival, doesn’t really have the deep bass weight one might ideally wish for, but he projects real menace in his bearing.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth [left] and Jane Dutton as Eboli [right]
In her company debut, Janice Watson was a graceful and dignified Elisabeth. Not a natural Verdian, she sang very beautifully up until the last act, but was running out of steam during her aria and struggled to maintain the line in her subsequent duet with Carlos. William Dazeley was hugely impressive as Posa - he is unquestionably slightly on the light side, but he has an intelligent command of the music and is entirely convincing in this role which is so central to the opera. Jane Dutton’s Eboli was alluring and magnetic, with visceral power in ‘O don fatale’.
William Dazeley as Rodrigo [left] and Julian Gavin as Don Carlos [right]
Particularly impressive among the smaller roles was the monk of Robert Winslade Anderson, a dark-toned and focussed young bass who is surely a Philip-in-waiting. Julia Sporsén was a pert and courtly Thibault, and chorus member Kathryn McGuckin was a lyrical and secure Voice from Heaven, standing in for Rebecca Ryan (who, thanks to a visa problem, was stuck on the other side of the world).
Brindley Sherratt at King Philip II [left] and Clive Bayley as The Grand Inquisitor [right]
Conductor Richard Farnes really has the measure of the piece, throwing the score’s many bursts of passion or urgency into relief against the measured pace of the more intimate moments of intrigue. The word-setting in Andrew Porter’s superior translation is intelligent and natural-sounding, and it is delivered with clarity by every member of the cast. A recording is imminent in the Chandos Opera in English series, with most of the same performers; a welcome opportunity to keep for posterity a performance which presents as strong an argument for Verdi in English as we are ever likely to hear.
Ruth Elleson © 2009