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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
23 Aug 2009
Paul Hindemith: Die junge Magd, Op. 23, no. 2; Ernst Toch: Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29.
Gustav Mahler was not alone in setting verses from Hans Bethge’s collection of Chinese-inspired poetry entitled Die chinesische Flöte, as he did in his symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.
In contrast to Mahler’s effort, Ernst Toch composed a three-movement work which makes use of Bethge’s title for its setting of three poems: “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” “Die Ratte,” and “Das Los des Menschen.” Among the recent selections in the series Edition Staatskapelle Dresden is a CD which includes an historic performance of Toch’s Die Chinesische Flöte, a setting of three of Bethge’s poems, from 22 February 1949 along with a recording from 15 September 1948 of Paul Hindemith’s Die junge Magd, Op. 23b.
Dating from 1922 Ernst Toch’s Die chinesische Flöte, Op. 29 is a substantially different work than Mahler’s more familiar setting of Bethge’s poetry. From the outset the spare timbres connote a different style. In contrast to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, in which chamber-music texts are part of the larger fabric of the work, Toch’s Chinesische Flöte is conceived for solo voice and chamber orchestra. Almost programmatically, the solo flute is prominent in the first movement, Toch’s setting of “Die geheimnisvolle Flöte,” and complements the voice throughout the work. Toch is sensitive to Bethge’s text, and allows the declamation to emerge readily in his sometimes spare orchestral textures. Likewise, he makes effective use of instrumental interludes to set off the verses of the poem and thus underscore the text, rather than render it all at once and thus risk losing the attention of the listeners. Inspired by the original text of Li Tai Pao, Bethge recreated in German the sense of remoteness to which Toch responded appropriately. Trötschel captures the sense of text well with her phrasing and intonations. Since the piece lies well for Trötschel’s voice, she is able to convey in this performance shades of meaning in the text.
The second setting in this cycle is a much shorter, somewhat ironic text entitled “Die Ratte” (“The Rat”), a metaphor for an obsession. Thus, the rapid-fire declamation that Toch uses is entirely appropriate to the verse, and serves as an excellent contrast to the sense of remote calm he achieved in the first piece. Again, Trötschel brings a natural kind of phrasing to the delivery, which is always clear and distinct. The third and final piece is “Das Los des Menschens” (“The Lot of Mankind”) a poem in which the summer season becomes a means of expressing something of the angst about human existence. Here Toch adapts from cliché sounds associated with the orient in the accompaniment in a setting with equal weight to the first. The instrumental music is more prominent than in the first movement and serves to punctuate the verses in this setting. Trötschel’s delivery brings clarity to this performance, which allows the text to be heard distinctly. The latter serves well for those who want to hear Bethge’s text, which is, unfortunately, not reproduced in the liner notes - for these pieces and Hindemith’s Hänssler offers the texts only in English translation, rather than the conventional bi- or trilingual presentation association with Lieder or chansons.
Composed around the same time, Hindemith’s song cycle Die junge Magd also makes use of a chamber ensemble for its accompaniment, specifically a string quartet augmented by flute and clarinet. The resulting timbres involve some of the composer’s distinctive style, which underscores the expressive dissonances he used in his settings some of the Austrian poet’s Georg Trakl’s verse The poems express some of the meaninglessness aspects of human existence, and Himdemith’s settings intensify them. Further, Ruth Lange brought out the introspective nature of the work with her idiomatic performance of the music. Performed in Germany shortly after the end of World War II, this work bears a further level of meaning, through a recording made during the rebuilding of a country which was at the forefront of modernism. The first poem of the cycle is particularly effective “Oft am Brunnen” and each of the succeeding five songs has something to offer. The recording is remarkably reproduced well in this CD, but it would be useful to have the texts reproduced in the accompanying booklet. As interesting as it is to have more background on the performers than usually occurs, the text is essential to pieces like this, which are available less frequently in recordings than other
James L. Zychowicz