Recently in Reviews
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.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.
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)