Recently in Reviews
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
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)