Recently in Reviews
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal.
Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the
extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.
In the first of pianist Julius Drake’s three-part series,
‘Perspectives’, our gaze was directed at Gustav Mahler’s eclectic musical
responses to human experiences: from the trauma and distress of anguished love
to the sweet contentment of true friendship, from the agonised introspection of
the artist to the diverse dramas of human interaction.
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
The Paris Opéra has not staged a full Ring Cycle since 1957, but its current season will conclude with a correction of this grand operatic gap.
15 Jun 2009
Haydn’s Bicentenary : 20 Capitals Salute “The Creation” With Standing Ovations
The Austrian Ministry of Culture and the Committee for the Celebrations of
Haydn’s Bicentenary had a brilliant idea: on May 31st , the day of the
composer’s death, 20 symphony orchestras and/or opera houses performed
one of his greatest and best known oratorios Die Schöpfung (The
Because of different time-zones, Die Schöpfung day started
in New Zealand and ended in Honolulu. An earnest radio listener could enjoy the
different performances over 24 hours and appreciate the difference in
conducting as well as in singing. Opera houses were included because in certain
countries (e.g. Germany) Die Schöpfung is also staged as a music
drama: computer technology and animation are a superb support to show the
initial chaos , the creation of the animals, of the flowers, of the lakes, of
the rivers and of the mountain as well as the Eden garden with the passionate
Adam and Eve duet.
In Rome, the Orchestra Sinfonica - Fondazione Roma (OsFr) was selected for
the task. The OsFr is a peculiarity in the Italian musical landscape: it is the
only fully private symphony orchestra. It does not receive any State,
Regional., Provincial or Municipal support but it is financed by the Fondazione
Roma ( a nonprofit foundation) and by a few companies. It has 90 permanent
elements (average age: 30), a budget which is less than one-fifth of that of
the main symphony orchestra in the Italian capital (l’Accademia Nazionale
di Santa Cecilia) and a low- priced ticket policy to attract young and old
people with modest income (season tickets for 30 concerts vary from € 260
to € 90 according to the category). Its music director and permanent
conductor is Maestro Francesco La Vecchia, who is also principal guest
conductor of the Berliner Symphoniker. La Vecchia has been music director of
Opera Houses and symphony orchestras in Central Europe (Budapest), Latin
America (Rio de Janeiro) and Portugal (Lisbon). The OsFr started some eight
years ago after a EU-supported training program for young graduates from
European conservatories. It has gained an important place in the international
music scenes also due to its tournée in Germany, Poland and China.
In January, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia had offered a different version
of Die Schöpfung — performed by Frieburger Barochester conducted
by René Jacobs and with Julia Kleiter, Donat Havar and Johanner Weisser as
soloists. The difference, of course, is not in the score (both Jacobs and La
Vecchia conducted the full score without cuts or intermission) but in the
style: dry, albeit almost religious, Jacobs’; passionate (even in the
approach to religion) La Vecchia’s .
Die Schöpfung is well known. Thus, there is no need to provide
Opera Today readers with background on its composition, on its Austrian and
London premières and on its contents. Its three parts are operatic acts. In the
first and in the second, the three archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael
observe the Creation by following very closely the biblical text. In the third
act, we are no longer witnessing from a distance the works of the Creator. The
scene is the Eden Garden. After an introduction of Uriel, the act is long love
scene of Adam and Eve that includes a duet supported by a choral background. As
Haydn planned, there are five characters but three singers: the bass and the
soprano are Raphael and Gabriel in the first and second act but become Adam and
Eve in the third act. The roles are taxing both for the duration (nearly two
hours of music ) and for the “virtuoso” singing — they imply
“coloratura”, “agility”, quite a few high Cs and many
Maestro La Vecchia recalls that in 1992 he had conducted Die
Schöpfung in the Amazonian Forest, at the vey confluence of the Rio Branco
with the Rio Petro. Over 10,000 Indios attended the performance thrilled by the
Haydn’s score. Most likely, the memory of that performance influenced
conducting on May 31st. In the first part, it is noteworthy how conductor,
orchestra and singers amplified the transition from the chaos (C minor) to the
newly lit world (A major) . In the second act, the emphasis is on the
descriptive imagery as in the portrayal of the animals: the cheerful, but rude,
trombone blast of the lion, the pouncing tiger, the placing grazing of cattle,
the sinuous music for the worm. The third act is less contemplative than
normally performed: the love between Adam and Eve is powerful, not merely
platonic; their duet is rapturous and timeless, an essential transition to the
glorious final chorus.
La Vecchia and the symphony orchestra had three excellent singers to work
with. Anita Selvaggio is a “soprano assoluto” better known outside
Italy than in her own country. Both as an archangel and as Eve she displayed a a remarkable flexibility in the upper extension and an extraordinary use of
messa di voce (a quality that many sopranos seem neither to care for
nor to practice enough). Michael Smallwood is an up-and-coming Australian tenor
with a delicate sensuous “legato”. David Wilson Johson is the best
known of the three soloists. He once again confirmed his talent and
Giuseppe Pennisi (Based On May 31st Rome Symphony Orchestra Performance)