Recently in Reviews
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
03 Aug 2009
Vivaldi: La fida ninfa
Although Antonio Vivaldi’s instrumental compositions were highly popular in his lifetime, and have been held in high regard throughout the centuries, most of his operas have been — until recently — relegated to obscurity.
This sad state of affairs is being rectified by the
wonderful new series of opera recordings available through the Naïve label,
part of its larger Vivaldi Edition project. Naïve’s most recent offering
in this series is a concert production of La fida ninfa, a work which
was premiered at the opening of Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico in January of
1732. One of the organizers of the event was the librettist, Francesco
Scipione, Marquis di Maffei. Scipione was a Jesuit-educated aristocrat who
specialized in Etruscology, dramatic theory, and classical philology —
but still managed to find time to participate in the War of the Spanish
Succession and, in his later years, write a famous theological tract attacking
Jansenist doctrines. The poet’s most famous literary effort was
undoubtedly his dramma, Merope, a work which served as one of the
models for Voltaire’s tragedy of the same name. Unfortunately
Scipione’s libretto for La fida Ninfa, an allegory on
matrimonial love replete with love-struck nymphs, grumpy pirates, and multiple
cases of mistaken identity, is less distinguished. While it is a credit to the
composer that he was still able to create an impressive work from this clichéd
literary material, the lack of a convincing plot line weakens the overall
impact of the opera.
More significant for modern listeners, however, is the fact that La fida
ninfa betrays the influences of the new musical style which manifested
itself most powerfully a year later in the work of Pergolesi — La
serva padrona. This new approach can be heard immediately in the overture
of Vivaldi’s work, which features short, repeated melodic motifs, a
decidedly homophonic texture, and the spare harmonic palette more typical of
the mid-century style than the high baroque. This impression is only
strengthened in the many beautiful solo arias and duets of the opera, where
there is an unmistakable emphasis on simplicity and clarity of formal
structures. Also indicative of this new style are the ensemble numbers which
end each of the three acts: the remarkably beautiful trio finale of Act I
(“S’egli è ver”), the quartet which concludes Act II
(“Così fu gl’occhi miei?”), and the duet/choral conclusion of
Act III (“Non temer”) sound much less like Vivaldi than they do
Pergolesi or even Mozart.
Musical highlights of this recording include the restrained virtuosity of
Verónica Cangemi as Morasto (her interpretation of the Act I aria “Dolce
fiamma” is particularly fine), and the musicality of Topi Lehtipuu
(Narete), who brings a relaxed and confident tone to all his solo arias.
Vivaldi lovers will especially enjoy Narete’s beautiful lament
(“Deh ti piega”) in Act II, where the very able conductor,
Jean-Christophe Spinosi, creates an astonishingly sensitive interplay between
the tenor and the orchestra. Lorenzo Regazzo is highly effective in his
near-buffo role as Oralto, the spurned and highly irritable pirate,
and Sandrine Piau portrays Licori, the faithful nymph, with great sensitivity
and an impressive command baroque vocal technique. While there is no shortage
of vocal fireworks in this recording (Cangemi’s virtuoso performance of
“Destino avaro” in Act II verges on the unbelievable) the pastoral
moments of La fida ninfa seem the most memorable: the haunting duets
“Dimmi pastore” (Act I) between Philippe Jaroussky (Osmino) and
Marie-Nicole Lemieux (Elpina) and “Pan, ch’ognun venera”
between Lehtipuu and Jaroussky in Act III are spectacular. It is in these less
hurried sections of the opera that Spinosi’s orchestra displays its
wonderful musicality and attention to detail which are the hallmarks of the
Vivaldi recordings of the Ensemble Matheus.
La fida ninfa is not one of Vivaldi’s better efforts. The
music for the finale, which features a dialogue between Juno and Aeolus
(competently sung by Sara Mingardo and Christian Senn), is artificial and
uninspired. Even the Tempesta di mare which precedes the last scene is
a disappointment (through no fault of the orchestra) and does not measure up to
similar moments Vivaldi’s Seasons, for example. The fact that
this opera was composed in great haste (Vivaldi was not even the first choice
of the organizers of the theatre opening, having replaced their preferred
composer, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, at the last moment) is sadly apparent in
some of the music. Even so, the Ensemble Matheus’ fine performance of
this work is remarkable, and more than compensates for the occasional
weaknesses of the composition and blandness of Scipione’s libretto.
Donald R. Boomgaarden
Dean, College of Music and Fine Arts
Loyola University New Orleans