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It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
24 Jun 2009
MAHLER: Symphony no. 8
The Gala release of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony from Hamburg performances on 29 and 30 November 1954 serves to document further the composer’s presence in the concerto hall prior to the well-known Mahler-renewal in 1960.
While Mahler’s music is heard with increasing regularly in the latter part of the twentieth century, his works were not completely ignored after World War II. Yet recordings of his symphonies were rare, especially when it comes to something as demanding as the Eighth. The Hamburg performance on this recent Gala CD dates from that time, which is just after Leopold Stokowski recorded the Eighth in 1950. Led by the composer-theorist Winfried Zillig (1905-63), this performance is a fine effort, which stands well when compared to other recordings of the time. The soloists are suited to the task and include a young Herman Prey and youthful Franz Crass; the choruses worked well together in a nicely blended sound. And if there is a weakness it is in the orchestral sound, which falls short at times. The first section of the Eighth, “Veni Creator Spiritus,” is nicely paced and the modest tempos allow for a sense of clarity to emerge. Yet those familiar with the score will find some awkward transitions and, unfortunately, a disappointing ending to the movement. The abrupt cutoff does not fit the style, sounding more tacked on than conclusive.
The second part, the setting of the conclusion of the second part of Goethe’s Faust is similar in concept. The opening section seems louder and more direct than indicated in the score, with the chorus of anchorites more prominent than later conductors might allow. Some of the other passages are well sung, but on the whole, the performance seems to be an accumulation of sections. Yet among those sections, the solo of the Pater Ecstaticus “Ewiger Wonnebrand” receives a notable and impassioned reading by Prey. Elsewhere, the tempos sometimes drag, with some uncharacteristic results in the section “Ich spur’ soeben,” a point where the solo tenor interacts with the chorus. A similar situation occurs later in the passage “Bei der Liebe,” in which the tempos flag at the expense of building toward the concluding section. It is unfortunate, though, that the final section of the second part occurs on the second disc and does not continue from the music which precedes it. While other conductors might shape the phrases differently, the Zillig does bring the performance to a satisfying conclusion. In some places the instrumentalists seem a bit taxed, but the solo voices and, especially, the chorus sustain the intensity implicit in the score.
In addition to the Eighth Symphony, this recording includes a performance on 19 August 1951 by the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau of Mahler’s cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Salzburg Festival. This recording shows Fischer-Dieskau to fine effect with music he return to at various times in his lengthy career. Here, the involvement of Furtwängler is also of interest in a vivid recording of this familiar work. Also included is a slightly later performance by Fischer-Dieskau of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt on 6 June 1955. The two-disc set also includes Hugo Wolf’s Gesänge des Harfners sung by Herman Prey and also accompanied y the NDR-Sinfonieorchester led by Schmidt-Issersted from 13 September 1955. A bonus is the inclusion of Hans Werner Henze’s Fünf Neapolitanische Lieder from 19 September 1956 (again with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester and conducted by Schmidt-Isserstedt).
As important as the Mahler recordings are to document the composer’s reception at a time when his music needed champions to bring it to performance, they also represent the work of two major German singers, Prey and Fischer-Dieskau, who would become some of the most important voices of their generation in the decades that followed. At the same time, the efforts of the Schoenberg student Winfried Zillig are preserved in this rare recording of the Eighth. At a time when Mahler’s works were rarely heard, it is reassuring to know of the efforts to perform one of the composer’s more demanding scores.
James L. Zychowicz