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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.
20 Sep 2009
Die schöne Müllerin by Mark Padmore, Wigmore Hall
Schubert’s first song-cycle is a perfect choice with which to open a
new concert season, and the Wigmore Hall was packed on Friday evening in
anticipation of this recital by tenor Mark Padmore, much admired for the focus
and concentration of his ‘story-telling’, and Paul Lewis, one of
the most expressive and poetic of pianists today.
In the event, this was a controlled and precise rendition of Die schöne
Müllerin, thoughtfully conceived and executed with commitment and
integrity. The contrasts and juxtapositions of the text — as the wanderer
fluctuates between hope and desperation — were conveyed by skilfully
controlled oppositions of dynamic, tonality and tempo. Thus, a perfectly paced
and well-structured whole was enriched by carefully considered gestures: for
example, small hesitations — before Padmore’s exquisite
pianissimo of ‘Das Wasser’ in ‘Das Wandern’
(‘Journeying’), or preceding the piano’s shift to the minor
key half-way through ‘Wohin?’ (‘Where to?’), to name
but two of many such subtleties — enhanced the fluctuations between
excitement and longing, between optimism and despair. Similarly, the energy of
Lewis’s introduction to ‘Halt’ (‘Halt!’) captured
the young man’s eager exhilaration; while, the final, weighty, assertive
chords of ‘Ungeld’ (‘Impatience’) and
‘Mein!’ (‘Mine!’) conveyed the surety, and
misguidedness, of his conviction that “Dein ist mein Herz, und sol les
ewig bleiben” (“My heart is yours, and shall be forever!”).
Moreover, a sudden accelerando at the concluding line of ‘Die
böse farbe’ (‘The hateful colour’) communicated the agony
felt at departure, underlying the impassioned cry, “Zum Abschied deine
Hand!” (“give me your hand in parting!)
Indeed, in many ways the performers seemed to have exchanged their
conventional roles: from the rich assertive gestures of the opening bars of
‘Das Wandern’, it was evident that it was Lewis’s
accompaniment that would propel the musical and dramatic continuity. The piano
was both scene-setter and protagonist: rippling with the recurring arpeggiac
echoes of the brook, Lewis’s accompaniment both depicted the scenes and
source of the tragedy and embodied the inner turmoil of the wanderer’s
mind as he struggles with the fickle ‘murmuring friend’ which lulls
him to his Fate - a fusion of inner and outer, of man and the natural
environment which is truly Romantic.
In contrast, Padmore seemed less implicated, more objective, a teller of a
tale. Making frequent use of a fragile, haunting head voice, he may have kept
his distance from the young lover’s turmoil, but that is not to imply
that sang inexpressively. The tenor’s restraint in the final lines of
‘Pause’ — “Ist es der Nachklang meiner Liebespein/Sol
les das Vorspiel neuer Lieder sein?” (“Is this the echo of my
love’s torment/Or the prelude to new songs?”) — evoked the
bitter-sweet nature of the young man’s love, and his growing
self-knowledge. The octave rise on “Leibesnot”,
(“Anguish’), in ‘Die liebe Farbe’ (‘The beloved
colour’), the touching intensification and colouring of “mein
Herz” in ‘Ungeduld’, the guileless tenderness of the
timorous, pained questions “Wie welk, wie blaβ? … Wovon so
naβ?” (“Why faded, why pale? … What makes you
wet?”) in ‘Trockne Blumen’ (‘Withered Flowers’)
similarly demonstrated an impressive and coherent attention to detail.
Yet, one could not help feeling that Padmore’s delivery was rather
limited in tonal range, and thus in emotional variety. Over-use of a withdrawn,
plaintive timbre, together with a marked absence of vibrato throughout,
resulted in a weakening of dramatic impact, as familiarity weakened the meaning
and effect. Padmore’s diction, however, was excellent, even in the
‘busier’ numbers, such as ‘Der Jäger’ (‘The
Hunter’) where the pace and energetic accompaniment were no hindrance to
clarity. But, both performers seemed more at ease in the quieter, tranquil
songs, and here the ensemble was outstanding. Lewis’s understated
repeating rhythmic patterns in the closing two songs created an air of
inevitability as the distant call of the brook itself lured the wanderer, and
the audience, to its depths.
This was a genuinely unified conception and performance. One may like
one’s Schubert more fervent, more wrought or more turbulent, but Padmore
and Lewis offered a reading of clarity and cohesion, shaping and sustaining the
emotional and narrative journey, and creating moments of great sadness,
serenity and beauty along the way.