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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 Albanaian 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 : Biedermann 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.



Detail from La Mort d'Alceste ou L'Héroïsme de l'amour conjugal by Pierre Peyron, 1785  (Musée du Louvre)
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.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Alceste

Alceste: Deborah Voigt; Admète: Vinson Cole; Hercule: Richard Zeller; Apollon: Kyungmook Yum; L’Oracle: Ryan Kinsella; Evandre: Gregory Hostetler. Collegiate Chorale and New York City Opera Orchestra, conducted by George Manahan. At the Rose Theater.


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.

John Yohalem

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