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.
06 Sep 2009
Mahler and Ligeti at the Proms?
On the surface, the theme of this Prom seemed to be Sci Fi movies at the Proms. Both Ligeti's Atmosphères and Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra became huge hits when Stanley Kubrick used them in 2001 : A Space Odyssey. So how did Mahler's *Kindertotenlieder* fit in ?
The Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester certainly aren’t Mahler specialists. The name was chosen by Claudio Abbado when he set up his network of interrelated orchestras which have changed the face of European music. Although none of the performers are aged over 26, it’s not a youth orchestra in the usual sense. These players are carefully hand picked from thousands of applicants, and many go on to play in major orchestras.
Their Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces was lively and crisp and they did the spectacular moments in Also sprach Zarathustra to great effect. But the real test of an orchestra is how they handle the more subtle moments, rather than the big flashy passages like that striking entree to Zarathustra, which everyone knows from TV ads even if they don’t know Kubrick. The GMJO are very accomplished but there is only so much a musician can do at 20, compared to what he or she might do at, say, 45. So this wasn’t a performance of great interpretative depth, but something to enjoy for its sheer beauty.
Ligeti’s Atmosphères is an abstract soundscape. What seems like huge washes of white noise are created by extremes of detail, “microtonal polyphony”. The music moves in swathes of sound, the strings giving way to a surge of brass, each part played with slight variation. It’s the blend that creates the “atmosphere”. Hence the otherworldy sound of percussion brushes played against the strings of the piano : it’s music going boldly where no man has gone before. No wonder Kubrick heard it as “music from another planet”. Jonathan Nott’s soft focus sometimes underwhelms in other repertoire, but it’s perfect for this work, which is one of his specialities.
How would Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder fare in such a program and with an audience geared up for big movie themes ? The songs are about the death of children, and Ruckert’s poems are so personal that it’s almost painful to read them exposed on the printed page. Yet it’s a mistake to assume that such tragedy should lead to hyperfervid, overly operatic performance. Goerne’s approach was psychologically astute. The father in the poems is so numbed, he can only articulate his pain in brief moments : most of his grieving is inwards. This isn’t a time for histrionics.
Goerne’s approach is also musically astute. Kindertoitenlieder evolves like a miniature symphony. Like most of Mahler’s music, it moves towards a resolution, beyond immediate struggle towards some kind of transcendence. Dark into light. So the final song “In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus”, starts with a storm. Significantly the storm clears into music of great delicacy and clarity. The dead children have gone into a better place where they will be cared for, “as in their mother’s house”. Miss this, and you miss so much of Mahler’s aesthetic. So “going into another place” isn’t really so far away from the rarified vision of Ligeti’s Atmosphères after all.
This Prom is available online on demand until 11 September on www.bbc.co.uk/proms both in audio and TV rebroadcast.