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The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



Maria: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered
20 Sep 2009

Cecilia Bartoli: Maria

While the cover of this Decca two-DVD set mirrors that of Cecilia Bartoli's 2007 CD, Maria, the contents are not identical.

Maria: The Barcelona Concert & Malibran Rediscovered

Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Maxim Vengerov (Violin), La Scintilla Orchestra, Adam Fischer. conducting.

Decca 074 3252 5 [2DVDs]

$26.99  Click to buy

A tribute to the brief but memorable career of Maria Malibran (1808-1836), that studio recording itself came in two editions, one a hardback copy with bonus selections for a total of 17 tracks. Many of those selections appear on the first of this DVD set’s two discs, a film of a Barcelona concert - the date of which your reviewer could not find anywhere on the packaging or booklet. Bartoli sings 11 numbers in the 80-minute concert, supported by the small ensemble Orchestra La Scintilla, a conductor-less group led by first violinist Ada Pesch. The second disc, a documentary titled Malibran Rediscovered, follows Bartoli as she rehearses for the studio recording and researches Malibran’s life. So as Bartoli celebrates the career of Malibran, Decca celebrates Bartoli’s marketability. Strangely, though your reviewer scanned the materials carefully, he could not find a place to buy the Bartoli/Maria commuter mug or T-shirts.

But enough about the commerciality of this venture. Artistically - it is a success. Some will always find the physicality of a Bartoli performance distracting. She blinks and grimaces, clenches her fists and leans back to gather her forces. If all that effort helps her to produce the fluid, athletic vocalism that she does, it can be abided. Admittedly, at times, her consideration of the value of each word of the text - whether adjective, pronoun, or indefinite article - threatens to eclipse the greater meaning of the entire piece. In the totality of Bartoli’s presentation, her variety of tone and sheer joy in the music carry her beyond such criticisms. And she loves this music, either written for Malibran or in a couple cases, by her. An exquisite, deeply felt version of Adina’s closing scene from La Sonnambula gives way to a raucous Rataplan. The sweetness of Balfe’s Yon Moon o’er the Mountains feels all too brief in Bartoli’s ecstatic performance, although her command of English - quite strong in the conversational segments of the documentary - slips a bit at times. Strangely, a highlight of the disc, Casta Diva, does not appear on the concert disc, although a few minutes are seen in the documentary as Bartoli rehearses.

At just under 70 minutes the documentary doesn’t actually require the second disc that Decca provides, unless for reasons of premium audio quality. The documentary itself, “A Film by Michael Sturminger,” serves as much as a portrait of Bartoli as it does Malibran, but as Bartoli is such an engaging, down-to-earth personality, that adds to the piece’s appeal. She visits Malibran’s grave, rehearses for the Barcelona concert, and with her mother watches home movies of herself singing (a little Violetta of Traviata, act one!). More endearing than illuminating, perhaps, but never dull.

So consider this DVD set more than a companion to the studio recording - the live performance feels more energized than the CD set’s versions, and the documentary does its star-worshipping tastefully. Recommended.

Chris Mullins

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