Recently in Reviews
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.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
29 Jul 2009
Schubert bounces along at Wigmore Hall
The performance of lieder is a partnership between singer and pianist. In May I heard Julius Drake redeem an indifferent recital by the sheer beauty of his playing. I’ve been listening to him for more than 15 years. He’s a favorite. So I was completely taken by surprise by this recital
The program was promising, an intelligent mix of much-loved Schubert staples with relative rarities which the Wigmore Hall’s specialist audience eagerly anticipated. By its very nature Lieder is more extreme than ordinary song. Good Lieder recitals shouldn’t be tame. But the reckless pace at which Drake was playing seemed to stem from something quite outside the music. His “tempi” were so fast that all sense of phrasing was lost. Drake has the technical facility to play at breakneck speeds without losing notes, but this relentless pressure distorted line and meaning. And Lieder without meaning aren’t Lieder.
Since each song is individual, its character needs to be respected. Drake lurched from one song to the next without a break, sometimes almost before the resonant echoes of the last had faded. Switching from the contemplative “Freiwilliges Versinken” (D 700), with its images of a pale moon and resignation, to the stormy “Der zürnenden Diana” (D 707b) might in some circumstances be dramatic, but when every song and every traverse is treated the same hurried way, the songs tumble into a jumble.
The audience was disregarded, too. Pauses between songs allow listeners to reflect on what they’ve heard, for Lieder is about making listeners think. Now there wasn’t even time to turn a page, or to cough to break tension. Only after the performance ended, did Drake take an extended break, claiming he couldn’t find the score for the encore, laughing as if it were a joke. Since the encore was “Die Forellen” (D 550), and everyone knew there’d be an encore, this seemed contrived.
When Drake wasn’t aiming for an Olympic speed record, his touch was heavy and dominant. “An mein Klavier” (D 342) refers to a fortepiano. The melody lilts, for it’s a “sanftes Klavier”. This clavier, instead, gave extra force to the term “Hammer”-klavier.
To Ian Bostridge’s credit, he managed to match Drake’s pace for the most part. In the last few years, he’s developed much greater control and depth. Indeed, a friend of mine heard this concert a few weeks ago at Schwarzenberg and said that, if anything Bostridge’s voice was in even better form this evening. My friend, who hears 50 or more Lieder recitals a year, hasn’t in the past been a big Bostridge fan, but has become convinced by the singer’s increasing poise and confidence,. Now that’s tinged with respect for the way Bostridge handled the wayward dynamics.
“Der Wanderer” (D 489, von Lübeck) showed how Bostridge can float legato with the fluidity of a clarinet, yet imbue words with great meaning. Lieder aren’t a medium for bland purity: a singer has to care about the words. This is one of Bostridge’s great strengths. He’s clearly thought through less well known songs like “Die Perle” (D 466, Jacobi) where the poet knows he’ll never find the pearl he’s searching for. A pity that the marking “schrietend “(at a walking pace) was so rushed that it pushed the poet to his death before giving him a chance to savor his predicament with true Romantic pathos.
Ballads like “Lied des Gefangenen Jägers” (D 843) and “Normans Gesang,” (D 846) both to texts by Sir Walter Scott, need vivid expression to create interest, which Bostridge’s emphasis on meaning provided. Then, in a burst of impassioned energy, he threw himself into the Mayrhofer song “An die Freude” (D 654), giving it greater portent than I’ve ever heard before. Mayrhofer, a neurotic with whom Schubert later fell out, contemplates death, when friends will bring flowers to his grave. “Rejoice,” sings the poet, “Dies alles ist dem Toten gliech” (“all this means nothing to me now”). Despite the turbulent piano, Bostridge had perspective, and sang with grace.
Wonderful program notes by Richard Stokes. Most program notes are ephemera, geared to the most basic readership. Stokes’s notes combine insight into the music and poems with knowledge of wider cultural background. He gives details even the astute Wigmore Hall audience might miss. For example, “Das Zügenglöcklein” (D 871) isn’t just any bell but one traditionally rung in Austrian villagers when parishioners lay dying, to prepare them for the next world. In our frantic modern times, we don’t reflect on simple, quiet things like that. Stokes makes us realize just how relevant Schubert is to us today.