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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.
24 Jun 2009
A Masked Ball by Brooklyn Repertory Opera
Amato Opera went to the netherworld of expired extravaganzas this spring, a
one-man operation whose one man was weary. As New York’s oldest
down-the-block and semi-pro company, it’s loss was regrettable —
though it’s many years since Amato gave up doing interesting repertory.
Agreeable — and surprising — to find that several other shoestring
companies are flourishing, despite these bad financial times, and that venues
pop up in the unlikeliest parts of town — well, the rent is lower if the
address is stranger.
The Brooklyn Lyceum, for example, is a 1910 public bathhouse on Fourth
Avenue at President Street — they used to call it Flatbush, and now the
rebuilders say “Lower Slope,” but for many decades the plain
between the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Greenwood Cemetery was several miles
of vacant. Today it is reviving, there are tidy homes and restaurants, and you
can stroll by night and jitter-free. The Lyceum, tattered brick and the remains
of tile, contains a performing space about the size of a basketball court
— you could fit a dozen Amatos there — on a stage built over the
former pool. The look recalls the BAM Harvey (which was left to look that way
on purpose), but the stairs aren’t so steep at the Lyceum and the
bathrooms far easier to find. I strolled by one recent day for the last of
Brooklyn Repertory Opera’s four performances of Verdi’s A
Masked Ball — Brooklyn Rep always performs in English — and I
was delighted I had done so.
Full disclosure: The company prima donna, Kathleen Keske, is an old
friend whose voice I have admired in such roles as Weber’s Rezia but had
not heard in several years. I was eager to hear her Amelia, and she assured me
the rest of the cast was good. I had misgivings — I’ve been to a
lot of these little companies across the years — sometimes thrilled,
sometimes appalled. You never know. And Ballo is tricky, five big
roles and intricate orchestration. (Most such companies use a piano or two
— not Brooklyn Rep.)
Pamela Scanlon as Oscar and Francis Liska as Riccardo
To my delighted surprise, the cast was solid, mature enough for Verdi, and
eager to sing out; the orchestra, under Stephen Francis Vasta, professional and
clear, making Verdi’s points. The chorus was on the small side, and
overly weighted towards ladies, but costs were really cut on sets (mostly
projections of the royal palace in Stockholm) and costumes, haphazard at best.
The wince-making translation was uncredited in the program — I
wouldn’t admit to it either. (But I found I could shut my eyes and think
of the Italian, and let the voices carry the show.)
I’m delaying things: To my regret, Keske was not at her best in this
role. Amelia has two personalities, the defeated subject of domestic tragedy
and the full-throttle Verdi passionista; Keske did not possess the weight or
the well-supported power for those grand arching phrases. In her quiet aria,
however — the one that, in Italian, begins “Morrô, ma prima in
grazia” — she sang with well-placed tone and great feeling for a
woman in despair, facing with resignation the loss of everything dear to
The other soprano, the boy Oscar, was sung by Pamela Scanlon, whose strong,
bright soprano and clear, certain coloratura impressed me as a voice ready to
tackle Violetta and likely to give a good account of it. Her acting, as called
for by this trouser role, was on the cute side — but not a garish,
gender-mocking space alien, as in the current Met production. Riccardo —
promoted to king here but not Swedished as Gustav — was sung by Francis
Liska, with a graceful lyric line and the right air of narcissistic
indifference to the deep emotional waters in which he treads. Charles Karel
sang Renato with a sturdy, genuine Verdi baritone, warm, heartfelt and —
ultimately — grim.
A scene from A Masked Ball
Then out came Ulrica — you know — the fortune teller — the
Marian Anderson/Ewa Podles role. Already there had been intimations of
surprise, in references in the first scene, to a “magician” named
“Ulrico.” (Why not just Ulrich?) I seized the program and,
staggered, read the name: Nicholas Tamagna. “You sprang that on me! You
didn’t warn me!” I later accused Madame Keske, who smiled.
“Would you have come if I’d told you?” “Maybe
not.” “And did you like him?” she went on smiling.
Mr. Tamagna, a countertenor who usually sings roles like Orfeo (last April
at the Brooklyn Rep, sorry I missed it) and Handel’s Cesare (in D.C. in
the fall), earned his Book of World Records (and Wikipedia) moment as the first
man ever to sing this diehard mezzo role in a full performance of Verdi’s
opera. A slim figure with a shaven head and satanic contact lenses, he sang it
all — in a room of considerable size, remember — in a seamless
top-to-bottom alto with no hootiness, no doubtful support, loud as anyone (and
everyone) else in a healthy cast, the phrases as beautiful as their eldritch
import allowed. (Verdi didn’t want his witches to sound too beautiful,
you know.) It was a totally astonishing performance, and in five minutes
conquered what reservations I had — and I’m a stickler for certain
traditions. Tamagna’s has an alto in which I wished to bask.
But the joy of the entire afternoon was being in a big room where big,
healthy voices were singing big, healthy Verdi — up close, full throttle,
no electronics, no cutting corners. Pleasure of operatic caliber. This is not
lip-service lyric but a company that knows what it’s doing.