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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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
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.