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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Erwin Schott [Photo by Riccardo Musacchio and Flavio Ianniello]
12 May 2009

Verdi and Boito at the Rome Academy of Santa Cecilia — Angels and Demons in an Unusual Setting

By sheer coincidence, the Academy of Santa Cecilia — one of the most authoritative symphonic orchestras in Europe — planned a rather unusual concert in the same days (May 3-7) when just in the very same auditorium there was the world première of a movie expected to be a Hollywood blockbuster — the thriller titled “Angels & Demons”.

Ludwìg van Beethoven: Symphony n. 1; Giuseppe Verdi: Te Deum; Arrigo Boito: Mefistofele Prologo in Cielo

Erwin Schott, bass; Donika Mataj, soprano. Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia Children Chorus of Accademia di Santa Cecilia e Teatro dell’Opera di Roma Band della Guarda di Finanza. Conductor: Antonio Pappano.

Above: Erwin Schott [Photo by Riccardo Musacchio and Flavio Ianniello]


In addition, Maestro Antonio Pappano gave to the concert a title quite similar to that of the movie: “Angels & Demons”. This did ingenerate some confusion in the press. Opera Today seldom deals with symphonic concerts. However, this was a very special opportunity: an appetizer of what Pappano could do if he would conduct a fully fledged performance of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. I do not know whether Pappano has ever conducted the full opera in a stage performance.

Mefistofele is an “opéra maudite”, viz . an opera over which a bad spell seem to hang . It was a fiasco when his 7-hours-plus first version was premiered on March 5 1868. It was a major hit when drastically revised, the present version (about two and a half hours of music) was stage on October 4 1875 in Bologna. This second version was successful nearly until World War Two. Then, it disappeared nearly all over. In the USA, I remember a good production constructed by the York City Opera around the bass Norman Triegle in the 1970s. In Italy, only a few conductors (Riccardo Muti, Stefano Ranzani, Nicola Colabianchi) appear to like it. A few years ago Mefistofele was produced at La Scala but only for a few performances. In 2005 it was on the stage of the small Maruccino theatre of a little provincial town, Chieti; there Maestro Colabianchi took up the challenge. A few months later, Maestro Muti conducted two open air concert performances of excerpts of the opera in Ravenna and Tunisia. In 2007, a glittering Giancarlo Del Monaco production inaugurated the season of the Palermo’s Teatro Massimo with Maestro Ranzani in the pit.

I consider Mefistofele an uneven masterpiece , the only real attempt - with the second part of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony - to capture the spirit of Goethe’s poetry. Of course, only an attempt due to the immensity of Goethe’s Faust. There are naïve parts and uncertainties - something rough, not fully polished. But this adds to its charm.

Even in the decades when Mefistofele was hardly seen on stage, “The Prologue in Heaven” was often performed as a concert piece. It is a 25 minutes superb summary of what will happen next in the opera. Maestro Pappano , and the orchestra and chorus of the Santa Cecilia chorus- as well as the Rome children chorus - provided a real heavenly panoply in the opening of the “The Prologue”. The trumpet fanfares were sumptuous, the percussion thunderous, the brass and harps angelic: the audience felt to be in the Celestial Heights. Then with arrival of the Uruguayan bass Elwin Schott and his sarcastic and burlesque “Scherzo” we were taken down- to Hell. Schott is a bass with a well-tempered timbre; his grumblings sound even more blasphemous than in Triegle’s or Furlanetto’s performances. Pappano , the orchestra and the double chorus reach solemnity in the “Chorus Mysticus” scene immediately followed by a sharp confrontation in the challenge scene to ascend again to Celestial Heights when the Cherubins arrive and chase the tempter. A vibrant full of fire conducting which makes me ask for more, for a full production. The concert hall has 2800 seats ; the audience was enthusiastic.

Mefistofele’s “Prologue” was precede by a rarely performed Verdi’s Te Deum . Verdi was a tormented atheist, whilst Boito was a deeply rooted and contented atheist. His Te Deum is a late composition - first performed in 1898 when he was well in his 80s. It was not an old man’s search for after-life-peace. With a bit of irony , Verdi wrote that it was meant as the Audience’s (with capital “A”) Thanksgiving for not having to listen to his opera any longer . Twenty years after his Requiem, Verdi is back in Church but once more, like in a melodrama his music deals with human, very human passions more than with Godly feelings. The Chorus is a grand-opera chorus counterpointed by a soprano voice and a masterly orchestration . Pappano is, first of all, an operatic conductor. Hence his highly dramatic.

The initial part of the concert was Beethoven’s First Symphony. Pappano lengthened the tempos: the symphony lasted nearly 45 minutes instead of the 30-35 in most recorded performances . He added pathos in the “adagio” and “andante con brio” but last the Haydn’s and Mozart’s XVII century elegance in the “minuetto”.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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