Recently in Reviews
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
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!”