Recently in Reviews
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
21 May 2009
Lieder and Opera meet in Hugo Wolf
Lieder and opera are different worlds. But understanding the differences helps us appreciate what makes each form distinct. Hugo Wolf’s songs come close to bridging the genres. They’ve been described as “miniature operas” where dramas are distilled into compact form.
The Wigmore Hall is hallowed ground for Lieder. Built in 1901 for Bechstein,
it is one of the world’s great recital halls, where many great singers
have appeared, even though it seats only 450. It’s the ambience that
draws them. They’d make more money in a big arena, but the Wigmore Hall
is a special experience. It’s small enough that interaction between
performers and audience is direct and intimate. This is the ethos that makes
Lieder so special. It’s intensely personal and nuanced : song through a
microscope to speak, but imbued with warmth and feeling.
Christian Gerhaher is a favourite with the Wigmore Hall audience. On this
evening Anna Netrebko and Dimitri Hvorotovsky were scheduled to sing elsewhere
in town, impacting on sales, so the Wigmore Hall wasn’t sold out as
usual. Gerhaher was singing Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches
Liederbuch, with his regular pianist, Gerold Huber and a young soprano,
The 46 songs in the collection form a narrative, or even a cycle. Together,
they form a kaleidoscope of “Italian” life, romanticized through
Austro-German ears.. Hugo Wolf never fulfilled his dream of going to Italy, but
each song is full of vividly imagined incident. Dissolute monks seduce girls
whose mothers trust men in robes, a girl longs for “older men”
– aged 14!. Each song is like a moment in a larger story. Der schöne
Toni’s eating himself to death because Tonina has dumped him, and a
man’s heart jumps clean out of his chest, running off to see his
Plenty of drama, then, in these songs, which Wolf plays up exuberantly with
witty piano commentary. They lend themselves to more dramatic treatment than do
more introspective Lieder. Indeed, much of the impact would be lost if they
were performed without a lively sense of fun.
Gerhaher was in good form. His voice is richly resonant, yet flexible enough
that he takes Wolf’s tricky rhythms with ease. Yet these songs are still
fundamentally, Lieder, where the action is inward. Gerhaher was most impressive
in songs where the singer has to hint at deeper mysteries. For example, Schon
streck’t ich aus im Bett, where the lover jumps out of bed to play his
lute. Wolf sets the last stanzas with a strange, meandering lilt which evokes
the strumming of the lute but also the text which pointedly mentions that the
singers has walked away from many girls, his music “wafted away in the
wind”. It’s no serenade.
Lieder is private, almost silent expression. There’s no orchestra, set
or plot to compete with, so the dynamics are different. Mojca Erdmann is young,
who’s still having to prove herself with her voice, so naturally
she’s more inclined to a declamatory approach that highlights the
technical side of her singing. Her flourishes in ‘Ich hab’ in
Penna’ would sound impressive in the theatre, but overwhelm the balance
in the song. True, the song’s about a girl bragging about her many
admirers, but it’s more effective with a touch of subtlety.
As the first song in the set goes, ‘Auch kleine Dinge’,
“even small things can delight”. “Think only of the
rose”, it continues in delicate tones, “it’s small but smells