Recently in Reviews
Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
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.