Recently in Reviews
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.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
26 Jun 2009
Gőtterdämmerung in Venice and Kőln — Sex and Politics Behind the Berlin Wall
With Götterdämmerung, a co-production with the Köln Opera House created by Robert Carsen (stage direction), Patrick Kinmonth (sets and costumes) and
Jeffrey Tate (conductor), La Fenice approaches completion of the
La Fenice’s Ring, however, will not be
completed until next season because of complicated programming and budgeting
considerations. Consequently, the prologue, Das Rheingold, will be
seen in the lagoon after the downfall of the Gods and of the Gibichungs’
Kingdom. Moreover, although the Carsen-Kinmonth-Tate team remained unchanged,
many cast changes were made at La Fenice along with a revamping of the sets to
fit its smaller stage.
Chronologically, the Köln-La Fenice Ring is one of the first
to be staged in the 21st century. Its concepts are similar to those of the
“politically oriented” Rings that prevailed from the
mid-70s to the mid-80s, especially in Europe. This first of these
“politically oriented” Rings was the (nearly aborted) La
Scala production created by Luca Ronconi (stage direction) and the Pierluigi
Pizzi (sets and costumes) in 1974. The musical director, Wolfang Sawallisch,
objected to proceeding beyond Die Walküre. The entire project was revived
in Florence (with Zubin Mehta in the pit) in 1979-82. The most widely known of
the “politically oriented” Rings was the Bayreuth
“Centenary” production in 1976 entrusted to Patrice Chéreau and
Pierre Boulez. After four years in the “Holy Hill”, it became a
successful television serial that was also shown in regular movie houses. Now
whilst only photographs remain of the Florence production, the Chéreau-Boulez
Ring is available on DVD. It is fair to say that the saga lends itself
to a political allegory of industrial and political power, of lust for money
and for women, of Nazism’s rise and fall, a direction taken by Luchino
Visconti in his 1971 blockbuster film.
In light of this context, there is something old fashioned in the La Fenice-Köln production. Nevertheless, the Ghibichung Kingdom is not Hitler’s
Reich, but rather East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Red flags
are flying about the Royal Palace. The “nomenklatura” are dressed
in elegant attire of the '50s, accompanied by soldiers of the National
Peoples’ Army. Siegfried, Brünnhilde and the Norns, on the other hand,
are shabbily dressed. The Norns live in an attic filled with broken
furniture from the 1930s and the 1940s (an allusion to the defunct
Albeit attractive, the Rhinemaidens appear poverty-striken,
swimming in a polluted Rhine. As in many of Carsen’s production, politics
is mixed with a fair amount of sex. At daybreak, Brünnhilde begins her
passionate love duet by performing oral sex upon Siegfried. Hagen makes love to
Gutrune on Gunther’s royal desk (in the presence of her brother and
King). In the wife-swapping scene at the end of the first act, Siegfried
(disguised as Gunther) attempts to rape Brünnhilde before remembering his pact
with the King. The second-act wedding party initially appears as an orgy with
rivers of wine and spirits and ladies taking off their clothes.
In a similar
vein, the Rheinmaidens grope Siegfried all about his trousers. All of this heightens the coup-de-théâtre in the final scene. Brünnhilde is alone
on stage during the holocaust, the fire of the Royal Palace, the downfall of
the Gods and the flood of the river (cleansing corrupted Gods and corrupted
men-in-power). During the concluding passages, a huge waterfall covers the
stage. In short, although the concept goes back to the 70s, there are numerous
innovations in this Ring and this Götterdämmerung in
Although British, Jeffrey Tate possesses an Italian or Austrian conducting
style. He caresses the orchestra with gently slowing tempi. This clashes,
however, with the dramatic action-oriented stage direction. La Fenice’s
orchestra fares well; but it is not that of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
(which performed Götterdämmerung a few weeks ago) or of the Berliner
Philarmoniker (which will perform Götterdämmerung in Aix en Provence
in early July). Jayne Casselman was simply excellent, both vocally and
dramatically, as a vibrant Brünnhilde to be remembered for some time. Her
Siegfried, Stefan Vinke, performed well in the taxing third act; but in the
previous two acts he displayed vocal problems (especially with the Cs) and a
host of technical difficulties. He paled against Lance Taylor who performed the
role in the recent Florence production. A sexy Nicola Beller Carbone was a
vocally imposing Gutrune. And, the youthful Gabriel Suovane and Gidon Saks were
two well-rounded bass baritones, whom, I trust, we will hear often in the