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Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
17 Jun 2009
Ian Bostridge at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
In a recent Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert featuring twentieth-century
instrumental and vocal compositions Ian Bostridge sang Benjamin Britten’s
Les Illuminations under the direction of principal conductor Bernard
The concert opened with a contemporary arrangement of early music,
Steven Stucky’s transcription of Henry Purcell’s Funeral Music
for Queen Mary, this version receiving its first performances by the
Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The second half of the program offered a masterful
account of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15, the performance here
yielding considerable opportunity for both soloists and orchestral ensemble.
The brief transcription of Funeral Music in four parts,
beginning and ending with a march, honors the musical spirit of Purcell while
offering a modern interpretation of the same. After an introduction emphasizing
low notes for the flute, a steady piano accompaniment gives way to the drums
signaling a dignified realization of death. Following this opening, the CSO
brass played an appropriately somber dirge, indeed one associated with the
elevated stance of passing royalty. An oboe solo, performed here with great
effect by Eugene Izotov, was echoed by the brass, such types of musical
dialogue informing much of the remainder of Stucky’s transcription of
Purcell. Sustained notes held by the use of the vibraphone introduced a
continuity leading to a final stately reprise, with the repetition of drums
calling the funereal tone into an ultimate focus.
The significance of Purcell’s music for Benjamin Britten is certainly
recognized from the latter’s instrumental compositions, and the pairing
in this concert with Les Illuminations functioned as yet further
homage to the earlier composer. Britten was first inspired by the poetry of
Arthur Rimbaud in the late 1930s and finished in 1940 his cycle of songs,
Les Illuminations for high voice and strings, based on
Rimbaud’s texts of the same name. The singer’s approach to the
poetic texts by Rimbaud and interaction with the string orchestra is key to a
unified approach in a performance of this cycle. Bostridge has given ample
consideration to a multi-faceted approach evident in this program. He injects a
sense of drama without appearing overwrought in tone while, at the same time,
maintaining sufficient ironic distance so that his performance serves as both
song and commentary on the text and music being performed. In the introductory
lines of “Fanfare” Bostridge declares with proud conviction
“J’ai seul la clef de cette parade” [“I alone have the
keys to this parade”]. When these words are repeated and varied ending
piano on the phrase “cette parade sauvage” [“this savage
parade”], the singer becomes a keeper of secrets, one who bears the mask
of an omniscient observer. With this alternating perspective Bostridge guided
the listeners through the following series of poems chosen and set by Britten.
“Villes” [“Cities”] details the varied and stirring
activity of the modern city, filled with moving individuals and their means of
transportation. To illustrate the mix of ancient and modern — the seeming
paradox of nature, myth, and metropolis — Bostridge intoned, in effective
succession, a rising followed by a descending scale on the verbal forms in the
phrase “la lune brûle et hurle.”[“the moon burns and
howls”]. At the close of this song the paradox of frenetic movement and
ancient model was capped softly by Bostridge as he asked “d’ou
viennent mes sommeils…?” [“from where does my sleep come
…?”] with tender inquisitiveness. In the following text of
“Phrase” the lyrical I speaks, almost as one of the fates,
stretching cords from one pinnacle or window to another. While describing
movement here with the statement, “et je danse” [“and I
dance”], the tenor emphasized the physical verb starting on a crystalline
high note that progressed, glissando and gracefully all-encompassing, to a
concluding low. In the following three pieces, before an orchestral interlude,
the tone sways between the private and the open spheres. “Antique”
is a direct address to the son of Pan, both description and attempt to
communicate, during which Bostridge used his voice to suggest the musical
instrument associated with the deity. The range of notes struck so effectively
by the singer in the conclusion to this song evoked the female and male aspects
of the “double sexe” as cited. In “Royauté” an
unidentified couple indeed play at the roles of royalty for an extended day,
their self-absorption brought out especially in the ironic detachment of this
performance. The movements of the ocean and foam slapping against a boat in
“Marine” were convincingly imitated by melismatic effects on
“l’écume” [“foam”] and the final emphasis of
“tourbillons de lumière” [“whirlpools of light”].
As the first in the second group of texts following the orchestral
interlude, “Being Beauteous,” as titled by Rimbaud, is replete with
contrasting images that call into question the concepts of actual and idealized
appearance. Through notable shifts in tempo Bostridge underlined these
contrasts while allowing the text to maintain its own organic flow. The tone of
the song was aptly concluded with a low, almost heavy vocal projection on the
words “de l’air leger” [“of the soft air”],
suggesting by the performer antithesis in one’s perceptions of beauty. In
the final two songs, “Parade” and “Départ,” the soloist
released a crescendo of varied emotions as he observed and commented on the
parade of humanity, a further and elongated assurance here given that the key
to the parade rested with the perception of this voice. In “Départ”
Bostridge looked truly weary as he sang “Assez vu” [“Enough
seen”], the slow and quiet intonations now concluding a cycle of
contradictions, as the final phrase, “l’affection et le bruit
neufs” [“the new affection and noise”] trailed softly into
In the Symphony No. 15 by Shostakovich, performed after the intermission,
Haitink gave cohesive direction to a sprawling work that blends original motifs
with ample quotation. In the first movement, marked Allegretto, an initial
motif was introduced by the solo flute, played poignantly by Mathieu Dufour and
leading into a series of other solo parts in succession. After the bassoon,
oboe, and trombone contributed their parts, combinations of instruments — e.g.
flute and brass, piccolo and strings — were punctuated by intermittent
references to the William Tell overture by Rossini. In the second, Adagio
movement a solo for cello was played exquisitely by John Sharp, who was
subsequently joined by Dufour in a duet followed by the full complement of
strings. The concluding movements of the Symphony, with various tempo markings
including — again — Allegretto, contain yet further quotations from the
composer’s own works as well. The integration of the past and
transformation into a new composition remained the guiding force behind
Haitink’s memorable interpretation.