Recently in Reviews
Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for
major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards
of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen
gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of
the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.
One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.
Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half
century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some
conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere
of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing:
William Christie conducting some Charpentier.
The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.
Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.
As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.
Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.
Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.
That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.
Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.
This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.
John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.
On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
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