Recently in Reviews
Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company
co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on
Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War
For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.
There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham
Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.
Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.
Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel
One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander
Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several,
recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred
Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was
first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic
under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart,
based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney
at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at
Netherlands Opera earlier that year).
I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most
appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques
Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.
This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .
During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.
Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the
10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered
the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is
designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the
composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to
‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest
cornerstones of our civilisation’.
Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.
The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.
When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés
out of our misery?
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.
Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.
‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.
It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.
21 Jun 2009
Alceste by The Collegiate Chorale
The Collegiate Chorale (ably supported by the orchestra of the New York City
Opera under George Manahan) chose Gluck’s Alceste, last heard in
New York at the City Opera in 1982, for its annual spring concert opera —
an excellent choice for a chorus eager to show its stuff.
That Gluck, halfway between the baroque revival and the Mozartean standards,
is on a roll is not news. Orfeo is performed all over the place
— it always has been — but in more and more headline-grabbing
productions. Iphigénie en Tauride has become almost a repertory item
— Susan Graham does it everywhere, and other singers are taking it up. I
heard Iphigénie en Aulide in Rome last March (in a production borrowed
from La Scala), Armide was recently staged in Berlin, and
Alceste will be given in Santa Fe this summer with Christine Brewer.
Paride ed Elena is a workout — essentially two singers in a
long, aria-by-aria, seduction — so it’s not surprising that that
remains a rarity.
In Alceste, Gluck uses the chorus in his stately way to set the
scene in his three acts, creating a mood (somber in Act I, joyous in Act II,
hellish in Act III) against which the principals create the drama by vivid
contrast. In Act I, Alceste resists the helpless sorrow of the people of
Thessaly, bewailing the imminent death of their king — she will take
action, offering herself to death in her husband’s stead. In Act II, the
rejoicing of the populace is again a setting for Alceste, when she admits to
her husband what she has done, plunging everyone into mourning yet again. In
Act III, the raucous Hercule breaks the spirit of the Underworld denizens and
saves Alceste. The chorus is thus fundamental to the action by creating a
musical backdrop against which the individual may become heroic. The mass and
weight and careful diction of the Collegiate were impressive, though the many
solo lines spread among them (Gluck’s idea: so we can take them for
individual inhabitants of Thessaly in a national crisis and not just anonymous
masses) did not sound of proper operatic caliber.
Alceste usually gets trundled out for some aging, rather placid grande dame
— few characters ever lose their cool in Gluck, and Alceste’s
emotions are grandly presented — seething beneath a surface of good
manners. Technical control and subtle acting are cues for the part —
Alceste does not have a huge orchestra to contend with, but she must express
her despairs and her resolve with dignity and economy.
Deborah Voigt’s voice was once a technical marvel, though seldom
expressive. For whatever reasons (and she was singing through a cold on this
occasion), she is no longer fully in control of her voice. Phrases droop from
pitch or blare forth undirected. Her famous aria at the conclusion of Act I,
“Divinités du Styx,” was sung with full technical command but
slight feeling; her quieter, more introspective aria at the opening of Act II
was a rare, affecting moment when the singer was playing the part, not simply
vocalizing. Voigt has been a fine Cassandre in Les Troyens, a role
that would seem to offer a key to a fine Alceste, but on this occasion the
music got away from her.
The singer who brought down the house was Vinson Cole, a veteran called in
as Admète when Marcello Giordani had to cancel. I heard Cole sing Gluck twenty
years ago, in the French version of Orphée, where he was suave,
yearning, thrilling, far more effective in the part than the altos who usually
sing it (in the Italian version). His Admète was a stunner: the voice so
youthful (belying his white hair), so liquid, so lyrically expressive that the
opera’s focus became his anguish rather than Alceste’s sacrifice.
Richard Zeller made a good roustabout Hercule, Kyungmook Yim was an exciting
Apollon (Admète’s friend in high places), and Ryan Kinsella effective as
the oracle who decrees the substitution possible. Manahan, in the pit, was
always dignified but never boring — the proper style for Gluck.