Recently in Reviews
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
21 Jun 2009
Madame Says Farewell
Last week (May 27), “without further a-don’t,” as she adorably puts it, Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh, the world’s reigning traumatic soprano
— lately, she says, more of a soprano “spento” — bade a
last, lingering, loving farewell to her adoring public in a sold-out concert at
the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
it again twice more that week, in the same venue; no doubt other such occasions
will occur. (In any case, there are several CDs and DVDs available. Check her
Web site, www.granscena.org.)
It is easy for anyone to make jokes about opera — everyone already
has. Most of them aren’t funny, never mind witty, never mind as delicious
as the real thing — but that never stops the jokers. What is rare,
besides jokes about opera that are actually funny, witty, and delicious, is
someone who can make a joke about opera last (before a pretty knowledgeable
audience, too) for three hours at a stretch, without deadening out. Anna
Russell managed it — but opera, though her best-known target, was not the
only string to her bow. (I’m not mixing metaphors; I’m setting them
on PUREE.) Gerard Hoffnung managed it, but died too tragically young. Vera
Galupe-Borszkh can still clock it in at three hours after 28 years in the
saddle, which is nothing short of extraordinary — sometimes she has even
been known to resort to new material! No doubt she owes some of her creativity
to a long and suspiciously well-guarded but indescribably relationship with the
vastly knowledgeable Ira Siff, who co-announces Metropolitan Opera
But how she manages to get her magnificent mane of red hair (natural, she
swears by the Virgin of Kiev) out of its scruffy featherduster á la nature into
a taut geisha coiffure during one swift scene change (you never saw a redheaded
Butterfly? This must be the place) and then formed into a trillion sausage
curls for the dying Violetta in another — that calls for skill, technique
and effrontery, which have been (along with a haphazard, not to say biohazard,
shtetl Bessarabian accent) the hallmarks of her career.
Born Vera Vsyevelodovna Borszkh on the outskirts, or fringes, or gym socks
of Odessa, more years ago than Madame can be relied upon to count, she fled
Soviet Russia “when I got tired of singing Aida in languages which got no
wowels.” Later she became the last pupil and ultimately the bride of the
last bel canto castrato, Manuel Galupe (“for a diva, marrying a man
already a castrato is good thing — it save so much time”). Vera
Galupe-Borszkh is not only a living legend (they’re common enough), she
is a voice from the golden age when such things were preserved only by memory
and by the rare and often unconvincing magic of scratchy shellac at 78
revolutions per minute. When you hear G-B, you not only hear the technique, the
talent, the dedication of a bygone golden era, you seem always to hear in her
very throat the echo of scratchy shellac. Perhaps she is one of those who has
used her throat not wisely but too well — the Muse is a harsh mistress,
and G-B has never been one to hold back. Fake it, yes — hold back,
Only a cad — or a critic — to make a distinction without
difference — would point out that Madame’s sustenance of tone has
begun to waver, like the breeze flitting over the Ukrainian wheat fields at
noon. To put it crudely, you could drive a tractor through that tremolo. Yet,
properly warmed up, she can still exquisitely float the opening tone of the
opening “Pace” in Leonora’s aria from Forza del
Destino so that it seems to last longer than the entire opera usually
does. (Just as well she omits the rest of the aria.) Her pitch in the Philip
Glass takeoff is no longer machinelike — and Glass’s music, even in
sendup, does not take kindly to human performance. And was I really the only
member of the audience so moved by her singing of the Sleepwalking Scene from
Bellini’s La Sonnambula that I could not resist shouting:
“Jump! Jump! Jump!” (A friend said he was saving the comment for
Mary Zimmerman’s next curtain call.)
More grateful for her instrument in its present vocal estate (or tenement,
as she has been a New Yorker for years), were five “Rossyan fok
songs,” in which the audience was invited to join her. (“You are
good! You must all be Juilliard drop-outs!”) Lieder, too — her
signposted “Erlkönig” is justly famous, her “Morgen”
sublime — were rather easier on voice and ear than the full-scale arias.
Let lesser singers take note: Madame never sings with surtitles or subtitles or
translations — the voice and the gestures (and the costumes) give us
every drainable drop of meaning, and you’re lucky to get it.
It was a great event in the present — but it was, still more, as
Madame put it herself, an evening of extraordinary mammaries. So much of the
style — and the singing — and the shtick — and the annotation
— seemed uncannily to recall occasions long, long ago. But it was
delicious to hear her shtick it to the Met, with all the fervor of someone who
might have been tactfully repressing her real opinions during a season of
broadcast commentary. (“I love the Salome — where she take off
everything! Even some of the high notes!”)
She was ably assisted by Maestro Sergio Zawa, engulfing the piano, and
Carmelita della Vaca-Browne stealing the crumbs of the scenes Madame was
chewing. Della Vaca-Browne lovingly recreated a moment I’ve never
forgotten, from the very first season of La Gran Scena Opera Company di New
York in 1981, when Annina beheld the gasping Violetta on her deathbed and
tossed confetti in her face, then responded to her furious glare with the
explanation, from the libretto: “E carnevale.” In Vera’s
vocal presence, when is it not Carnival?
Ladies and gentlemen, all I can say is (to echo Tosca, one of Madame’s
great roles): “Ecco un artista!”