Recently in Reviews
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.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
07 Aug 2009
Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music — Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
In the Euroarts series Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music: Documentary & Performance, the volume devoted to Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra stands out as a particularly accessible and well-executed release.
As with the other DVDs in this series, the contents of the disc are divided between an analysis of the work as its “Documentary” and a film of a performance of the work, and this combination makes the release particularly useful as a teaching tool. To the credit of Günter Atteln, who was responsible for it, the documentary nicely allows historical background to intersect with a description of the music. More than that, the use of iconography helps to give a concrete image of the composer and that is a fine springboard for the interviews with the conductor Pierre Boulez.
Going further, it is useful to have the musical passages illustrated at times with images of the notation, so that students who view the documentary can have some reinforcement of the connections between written music and audible sound it represents. This demonstrates the well considered presentation behind the series, which extends further into the well-written script, inviting narration, and fine pacing. Moreover, through its focus and concision, the documentation on Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra serves the work well through the balance it offers on biography, analysis, and cultural elements.
Moreover, it is useful for audiences to hear the esteemed composer and conductor Pierre Boulez interviewed apart from his presence on the podium for the performance of the work. Boulez’s authoritative voice demonstrates his fluency in German, and the subtitles are a solid way for audiences unfamiliar with that language to apprehend his comments without the artifice of dubbing or other such means. As such, the interspersing of the female narrative speaking idiomatic British English with the continental Boulez commenting in German also contributes a nice variety to the spoken work in that part of the DVD.
As to the performance itself, the concert of the Berlin Philharmonic was given at the Mosteiro des Jerónimos, Lisbon on 1 May 2003. This monastery provides a picturesque background for the performance with its soaring, Gothic arches giving a sense of spaciousness to the concert. The acoustics in this performance space serve the work well, with its clean resonance for the burnished sound of the Berlin Philharmonic. In fact, the performance itself is one which deserves attention its own merits, as a relatively rare presentation of this work on DVD. The apse of the monastery allows for some excellent sightlines for capturing Boulez’s conducting well, and the lighting allows for some fine shots of the orchestra which avoid the glare which sometimes occurs in films of concerts on stage. At the same time, the position of the orchestra and conductor on almost the same visual plane as the audience adds a further level of accessibility to audiences who may be less familiar with this work or other examples of concert music.
The visual images are clear and immediate, the sound rich and full. With subtitles available in French, German, English, and Spanish, it should be possible for people in various Western countries to enjoy this DVD. In addition, the booklet accompanying the DVD contains a brief essay by Wolfgang Stähr, along with a pithy timeline of Bartók’s career, and a glossary of musical terms in German, French and English. (For the latter, a three-volume alignment would have been useful for teaching purposes.) All in all, it is a welcome addition to the series and a fine tribute to one of the masterworks of Bartók. Such an introduction would allow new audiences to delve more deeply into the Concerto for Orchestra. From here it would not be difficult for those interested to move to other music by Bartók, including such fine works for the stage as the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin or the opera Bluebeard’s Castle.
James L. Zychowicz