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I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
19 Jun 2009
No Redemption for Munich’s Dutchman
Although there was considerable theatrical imagination on display, redemption was in critically short supply in Peter Konwitschny's production of The Flying Dutchman at Munich’s estimable Bavarian State Opera.
It all began very promisingly indeed with a realistic period setting,
gorgeously painted, and with luxurious Old Dutch Masters costumes, both designs
courtesy of Johannes Leiacker. I was not completely taken with the invention of
the mute character “An Angel” (Christina Polzin) who somewhat tailed the
leading man as a premonition of Senta, I guess, but never mind. Because, in a
stunning directorial stroke, Konwitschny set the second act ladies in a
gleaming white contemporary fitness center spinning class! No fooling, this
really worked. Mary was the attendant who circulated and dispensed water
bottles and towels.
Erik entered in a white bathrobe and slippers (apparently having taken a
sauna) and it is hard to explain the rather carnal element that that visual
introduced into a scene that we usually simply suffer through. And when the
Dutchman arrived, completely anachronistic in his period Flemish drag, wow! Did
it ever hammer home the time warp he was trapped in, and the irrational
inevitability of Senta’s obsession. This was truly powerful theatre, heightened
by the fine lighting design with its isolated areas by Michael Bauer.
And then…Peter lost his way. The final act took place in a harbor-side
warehouse with Fest tables/benches, the Dutchman crew visibly partied stage
left, and lots of metal drums filled with flammable materials crowded the
stage. The face-off between the locals and the spooks, shorn of its element of
surprise, looked like a lame “Dance at the Gym” confrontation from West
Side Story. And in a critical artistic mis-step, after Senta’s last
outburst she torched one of the storage drums, and a huge explosion blew
everyone away. Everyone.
Somewhere in the far distance, perhaps on a boom box in the ladies dressing
room, we faintly heard the final bars playing as the cast was revealed standing
down lit and ghostly behind a scrim. Dead as door nails. Or Dutchmen. In a box,
house left, a pained spectator yelled “For God’s sake, play the rest of the
music!” No one shushed him. He was articulating our collective grief.
It is inconceivable that the producers allowed Wagner’s opera to be shorn of
its soaring redemption at the expense of an ineffective and inappropriate
theatrical effect. Nor can I conceive that a Bernstein, or Karajan, or Maazel,
or Barenboim would have allowed this musical cut to happen.
Apparently, young (talented) conductor Cornelius Meister did not have such
leverage. Maestro Meister is the youngest General Music Director in Germany
(Heidelberg) and his star is justifiably rising. Much of his leadership was
richly incisive, with well-judged tempi and fine consideration of his singers.
But it has to be said that the tricky ensemble woodwind attacci were a might
ragged, and the brass were too many times perfunctory. The string section
however, had a fantastic night characterized by warm and accurate tutti
Even a willful re-writing of the story by a bad boy stage director, however,
could not steal the focus from the brilliance of Bryn Terfel’s assumption of
the title role. Surely this is one of the most glorious vocal instruments
currently to be heard in the lyric theatre. From his first intense sotto voce
utterance, Mr. Terfel served notice that his Dutchman was more resigned than
tortured, more refined than bombastic, more rounded and musical by miles than
most park-and-bark Wagnerian practitioners.
That rolling, richly burnished tone poured out with ease and power, and his
acting was subtle and noble. His great duet with Senta was as tender and
persuasive as I have yet experienced, and his stamina and sound technique found
him sounding as fresh at opera’s end as at the start. Richly colored, finely
detailed, superbly shaped phrases characterized Terfel’s tremendous
musicianship, and they were wedded to an easy, engaging stage presence. If we
are ever searching for members of A New Golden Age (and aren’t we always?), we
can start with Bryn Terfel.
He was not alone in his success. Anje Kampe served up a radiant and vocally
generous Senta, building on her already fine reputation as a Sieglinde of
choice. While ample in volume, and secure in all ranges and volumes, the voice
is just a bit drier than, say, Hildegard Behrens, a great Senta of the recent
past. Still, her restrained vibrato made Ms. Kampe’s impersonation more
youthful than womanly, and that certainly was a rewarding take. Her acting was
Nikolai Schukoff was a very fine Erik, with plenty of thrust to his
substantial, essentially lyric tenor, and a handsome and youthful stage
presence. There were plenty of sparks between him and our doomed heroine. I
first saw Matti Salminen’s seasoned Daland in Savonlinna some years ago and his
definitive performance has only deepened over time, with very little
perceptible loss in vocal allure or power. Julia Oesch contributed a handsome,
securely sung Mary. Kevin Conners seems to be a local favorite, but I found his
stentorian Steersman a bit longer on power than finesse. The hard-working
chorus performed well under the direction of Andrés Máspero.
Can this Dutchman yet be saved? Restoring the finale Wagner wrote
would be a good start. Seriously, a musically and dramatically honest re-look
of Act Three could transform this otherwise inventive and rewarding production
into a memorable one.