Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

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

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

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.



Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 4
15 Sep 2009

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 4 in G major

The legacy of the late conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli includes a number of fine recordings of Mahler’s music, and among them is his Deutsche Grammophon recording of the composer’s Fourth Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra and the soprano Edita Gruberova.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 4 (Edition Staatskapelle Dresden Vol. 21)

Juliane Banse, soprano, Staatskapelle Dresden, Giuseppe Sinopoli, conductor.

Hänssler PH0747 [CD]

$17.98  Click to buy

While that recording dates from the early 1990s, Sinopoli performed the work later in his career with different forces, and that resulted in an impressive reading of the Fourth Symphony with the Staatskapelle Dresden. The performance of the Fourth Symphony was part of the 1999 Dresden Music Festival, specifically a concert given on 29 May 1999. With this recent issue by Hänssler in its Profil series in the Edition Staatskapelle Dresden, a fine recording of that performance is now available.

This later recording is notable in several way, since it is an impressive performance of the work and involves a fine interpretation of the Song-Finale “Das himmlische Leben” by the soprano Juliane Banse. In addition, the recording also preserves a seventeen-minute talk by Sinopoli, which serves as an introduction to the work. (The talk is given in German, with a transcription by Eberhard Steindorf included in the program notes.)

As a respected interpreter of Mahler’s music, Sinopoli brings a fine sense of style to his conception of this work. The first movement is conceived well, with a deft sensitivity to the form of the movement and its scoring. From the opening moments of the movement, Sinopoli conveys a dynamism, which allows the work to move forward. His tempo for the opening gesture, the so-called *Schellenkappe *- the jangling bells of the fool’s cap - are perfunctory, so that Sinopoli can give a more nuanced shape to the main theme. This kind of fluidity is characteristic of the entire movement is carefully structured, without seeming calculated. Such attention to details is consistent throughout, and includes a well-conceived tempo for the coda, which has the appropriate sense of underscoring the music that came before it.

With the Scherzo, Sinopli offers a similarly structured approach to the work, so that the passages for the *scordatura *solo violin emerged easily. A similar expansiveness occurs later, when other solo instruments are part of the structure, and the latitude Sinopoli gave those entrances fits well into the overall . His sense of drama at eh climax of the movement stands out from other performances, because of the breadth Sinopoli adds to the music at this point. The cadence into the section suggests, momentarily a sense of rubato, which the strings take up in an exemplary rendering of the portamento Mahler indicated in the score.

The third movement contains an emotional pitch which needs the expression Sinopoli used in this performance. From the opening measures, which evoke the ensemble “Mir ist so wunderbar” in the quartet from the first act of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, Sinopoli offers a clear vision of this tightly structured movement. A set of double variations, the performance also has a sense of spontaneity which comes from the intense playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden. The sustained pitches of the violins never flag, while the wind sonorities intersect without becoming overbearing. Without seeing the performance, it is possible to perceive an intensity in the interactions of the members of the orchestra in this recording. In some of the passages of the slow movement, the players seems attuned to the score, such that the give-and-take which necessarily occurs in professional ensembles like this one is even more acute. Midway through the movement, in the passage for solo oboe, the slightly slower tempo that Sinopoli used, allows details to emerge, like the written-out ornaments and the horn figures which response to each other distinctively. While it is nowhere rushed, the movement contains a well-considered intensity that solidly sets up the coda, the famous fanfare, which anticipates the concluding movement found in the song “Das himmlische Leben.” As elsewhere in this performance, no details have escaped Sinopoli, and his attention to the final measures of the coda demonstrate his knowledge of Mahler’s works in the way he brought out the motivic relationship to the song “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”in the thematic content, while simultaneously rendered the texture so that it has a timbral affinity to the scoring, which anticipates the *Adagietto *of the Fifth Symphony.

In the concluding movement, Juliane Banse offers a sensitive reading of the Song-Finale, with exemplary diction and expression. Her phrasing makes sense of both the poetry and its musical setting, a combination which is lauded, but rarely executed. That stated, Banse offers here a moving and insightful reading of the song. The balance between the lower and upper registers of her voice is nicely even, and complemented by a fine tone in the sustained pitches, which Banse takes to the full values of the notation. It is difficult to point to any single passage without slighting others, but the phrase “Sanct Ursula dazu lacht” evinces the dynamic tension and insightful musicality of Banse’s performance, with the portamento reinforcing the cadence and the change of mood in the song. This is but one passage in a performance which is consistently satisfying on various levels. Moreover, in conceiving the Song-Finale, Sinopoli has taken the movement a little more slowly than some other conductors, and this brings out certain elements, which connect the song to the movements which precede it. It is, ultimately, a convincing performance because of the intensity, which emerges in the various details that come together brilliantly.

This performance is a fine addition to the discography of the composer, and especially that of the Fourth Symphony. While a number of fine recordings of this work exist, the execution of the score in this particular performance offer perspectives which demonstrate the perennial appeal of this work. Without displacing the other fine recording of the Fourth Symphony which Sinopoli released, those who appreciate his intelligent and exciting art will not be disappointed in this extraordinary performance from the latter part of his career. Moreover, Sinopoli’s introduction to the work, the last band of the CD, affords the opportunity of hearing the late conductor talk about this music in person, and this is a welcome bonus on this outstanding recording.

James L. Zychowicz

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):