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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

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Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

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Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 1
09 Sep 2009

Mahler: Symphony no. 1

Among the important recent cycles of Mahler’s symphonies is the one underway by Valery Gergiev with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 1

London Symphony Orchestra. Valery Gergiev, conductor.

LSO 063 [SACD]

$18.98  Click to buy

Still in process, the recordings of Symphonies nos. 2, 3, 6, and 7 have been issued to date, with the release of Symphony no. 8 immanent. (Gergiev included the Adagio of the unfinished Tenth Symphony with the recording of Symphony no. 2). In addition, the recently issued CD of the First Symphony stems from live performances given in January 2008 at the Barbican, London. From the outset the sound is vivid, and it matches the somewhat vibrant approach Valery Gergiev has taken for the first movement. Yet the rather quick tempos do not always match the character of the music As ambiguous as the marking “Wie ein Naturlaut” (“like a sound in nature”) may be, the suggestion is usually taken to allow the opening to take shape slowly. Instead of the kind of atmospheric introduction which other conductors achieve, the pacing of the short ideas that follow moves to the main theme of the movement very quickly. As clear as the performance is, the quick tempos do not allow the cantabile nature of the first theme emerge, as it should with its evocation of the second song from the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, “Ging heut’ morgen übers Feld.” While it has some very effective moments, the absence of such connections to the innate vocality of the first movement makes the piece seem disconnected from the style associated with Mahler’s music.

With the second movement, though, Gergiev maintains his crisp tempos, but here it fits better into the style of the piece. The lyrical theme of the second section is, on the other hand, played with such a decided slowness that the sense of tempo sometimes escapes. Nevertheless, the playing is precise and clean, but sometimes more percussive sounding than occurs in other performances. In this movement, though, the dynamic contrasts are pronounced nicely and support the musical structure well. Within the interplay of dynamics and articulation, the orchestral colors represent the score well, with the brass prominent without overbalancing the strings.

Such sensitivity to the timbre is crucial to the third movement, which begins almost imperceptibly. The canon on the tune “Bruder Martin” is paced nicely, with the wood line supporting the contrapuntal texture nicely. With the second section, the portion which Mahler once characterized as suggesting Bohemian town musicians, the popular, or folk-like idiom is apparent without being exaggerated. Gergiev is also good to shade the tempos nicely, and with them the solo instruments. The solo trumpet is notable for the shading that occurs here, and the overall effect is a fine representation of the score. In the middle section, the one in which Mahler develops melodic ideas from “Die zwei blauen Eigen,” the final song of his cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, offers a fine contrast to the other ideas in the movement. Yet the sound levels of the final portion of the movement fade too soon.

Such a dramatic change in dynamic level does offer a setup for the opening of the Finale, which begins with a fine sense of drama. While tempos are not problematic for this movement, the sound levels are sometimes overbalanced. The extremes of dynamic level sometimes result in a fast-and-loud or slow-and-quiet dialectic. What needs to emerge in this movement are more sustained textures in which tone colors, dynamic levels, and articulations combine to create the effects Mahler scored. As with the other movements, the playing is satisfying throughout, but the nuances betray over- and understatement. The kind of sustained effects which Gergiev brought to his recent recording of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, for example, would work well here. The concluding in which the scalar theme that evokes for some Handel’s chorus “And he shall reign forever and ever,” as Stephen Johnson mentions in his liner notes, should emerge from the other ideas in the movement. Here, though, is seems disconnected from the larger structure. As much as the pacing of the concluding section is dramatic, the final two notes seem, perhaps, not sufficiently assertive.

Part of Gergiev’s cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra, this recording has its merits, but it also raises questions about stylistic issues in performing this important early work by Mahler. The roles of tempo, thematic cohesion, and dynamic contrasts, and other elements are important to the effective execution of this work. As familiar as Mahler’s First Symphony may be to modern audiences, it remains a demanding score on the part of the interpreter. Again, as a live performance, this recording differs from some of the studio recordings, with exciting playing on the part of the London Symphony Orchestra.

James L. Zychowicz

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