Recently in Reviews
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
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)