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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 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 : Beidermann 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

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

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.



Janice Baird (Brünnhilde). © Rozarii Lynch photo
06 Sep 2009

Seattle humanizes Wagner’s Ring

In 2001, when Seattle Opera completed its current production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen, it seemed the company had taken a step backward. In appearance the new Ring — the third full SO staging since Glynn Ross set out to make the city the American counterpart to Germany’s Bayreuth — was traditional.

Seattle humanizes Wagner’s Ring

Above: Janice Baird (Brünnhilde) © Rozarii Lynch photo


When in his stage directions Wagner said “tree,” scenic designer Thomas Lynch gave him one — or, in the case of Act One of Die Walküre — an entire forest of entangled trunks and branches. And director Stephen Wadsworth seemed content to tell the story as straightforwardly as possible. This was clearly not a concept Ring rooted in the writings of Marx or Freud and it made no attempt to come to terms with Germany’s tormented past — and Wagner’s involvement in it.

09-Rheingold-rl-231.gifGreer Grimsley (Wotan) and Stephanie Blythe (Fricka). © Rozarii Lynch photo

On the heels of the second SO Ring, completed in 1986 and on stage for the next decade, it disappointed many. For in that earlier production Swiss director François Rochaix and designer Robert Israel offered a post-modern “take” on the cycle, focused visually on the machinery with which Wagner had sought to make the Ring live.

However, with the revival of the Wadsworth Ring this summer, the production has grown and matured, and this largely because the director, a seasoned veteran of the spoken theater, has remained with it and taken advantage of its return to the stage of the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall to reveal his own deeper insights into what is no doubt the greatest single operatic achievement of all time.

Wadsworth — to reduce so remarkable an achievement to a single word — has humanized the Ring, continuing and perfecting the process that began with the first post-war Bayreuth Ring directed by Wieland Wagner in 1952. At that time the composer’s grandson “sanitized” the mammoth work, stripping it of the swords, spears and winged helmets that had helped — with willing participation of his family — to make Wagner the court composer of National Socialism. Wieland Wagner acted out of necessity, knowing that only a non-political Ring would be acceptable to a world still up to its ankles in the ruins of World War Two. And now Wadsworth capitalizes on the experiences of the half century since that revolutionary Ring to bring to the surface in it the universal humanity of a story, in which the participants are only outwardly super-human gods and giants. The result is a Ring in which the audience is totally absorbed by the intimacy of the story as Wadsworth leads them through it.

09-Rheingold-rl-184.gifFront: Greer Grimsley (Wotan) and Dennis Petersen (Mime); Back: Kobie van Rensburg (Loge) and Richard Paul Fink (Alberich); and the Nibelungs. © Rozarii Lynch photo

Happily, Seattle Opera, celebrating a quarter century under the erudite leadership of Speight Jenkins, has provided the director with everything needed to make the staging as moving as it is monumental. Seattle’s choice of Janice Baird as the season’s Brünnhilde had been the most heavily hyped opera news of the summer. Billed by Opera News as the new Wagnerian “it girl,” the American soprano had the audience understandably eager to hear what she could do. And the war cry with which Baird made her entrance in Act Two of Walküre on August 10 was indeed impressive. In sheer force, however, she was no match for Jane Eaglen, Brünnhilde in Seattle from 2000 through 2005, nor — for those old enough to remember her — for Linda Kelm, Seattle’s major singer in the role in the ‘80s. When, however, Baird dug into the drama in her first exchange with Wotan her total command of the role and its dramatic power were overwhelming.

She is an intelligent singer who knows this work thoroughly from European productions and she responded magnificently to Wadsworth’s direction. That, for example, she came down from her rock to tell Siegmund that he would die was a fine touch. Kneeling with her half-brother at the side of the sleeping Sieglinde, their duet became almost a trio. It was, of course, as the woman betrayed that Baird revealed the full extent of her powers in Götterdämmerung. She sang the concluding immolation with a searing sense of transcendent tragedy. And that she is a beautiful person of regal bearing made her an ideal figure for Wadsworth’s approach to the Ring.

She had an equal both in vocal and acting ability in Greer Grimsley as the Wotan of the summer. Tall and handsome, Grimsley delivered a finely nuanced portrayal of the errant god.

One of the most glorious moments of the cycle, however, was Stephanie Blythe’s warning monologue to Brünnhilde in “Götterdämmerung.” Now a major Wagernian, the American mezzo elevated this to the dramatic level of Wotan’s farewell and of Brünnhilde’s final immolation. And as the Fricka of the summer Blythe played a woman still hesitant to admit the waning of a once-great passion.

09-Walkure-cb-177.gifStuart Skelton (Siegmund), Margaret Jane Wray (Sieglinde), and Janice Baird (Brünnhilde). © Chris Bennion photo

Sieglinde has long been a signature role for Margaret Jane Wray, whose voice has darkened beautifully in recent years. She also sang the Third Norn in Götterdämmerung.

Over half the cast of the ’09 Ring was new to the Seattle staging, to which Australia’s Stewart Skelton and Denmark’s Stig Andersen made stellar contributions. Skelton displayed the most refined command of German diction in the cast, while Andersen was an enviably youthful Siegfried who matured markedly through the two Ring operas in which he appears.

Richard Paul Fink remains the world’s ruling Alberich, while Dennis Petersen played a remarkably masculine Mime, eschewing the elements of parody that cause many to see this figure as an expression of Wagner’s anti-Semitism.

South Africa’s Kobie von Rensburg was a witty and wily Loge, while Andrea Silvestrelli and Daniel Sumegi were well-matched giants Fasolt and Fafner.

In Walküre Silvestrelli was an especially loathsome Hunding, while Sumegi as Hagen offered a profound essay in the darkness of the human heart.

Conductor Robert Spano is now a well-seasoned Wagnerian, who understands the necessity of letting the composer have his way, allowing the music to unfold by its own inner — and organic — rules. The enlarged orchestra — drawn largely from the Seattle Symphony — played stunningly.

09-Siegfried-cb-161.gifRichard Paul Fink (Alberich) and Dennis Petersen (Mime). © Chris Bennion photo

Among the many magic moments were the brief but breathless pause that Spano and Grimsley inserted between the crucially visionary “das Ende” and the repeat of the words, sung here not with Hans Hotter’s long-traditional Sprechstimme, but rather with melancholy lyricism. And Spano’s elucidation of the shadings of sexual development that color the Awakening Scene at the end of Siegfried made the work of other conductors with this incredibly complex section of the drama seem at best Biology 101.

About some things Wagner allowed Wadsworth no choice. The eight Walküre whooped it up as they are wont to do, but no glorification of heroic death. And against Siegfried’s re-forging of the sword Nothung even Wadsworth was helpless. (Someone once suggested replacing this bit of banality with help from Gershwin: “I got plenty of Nothung, and Nothung’s plenty for me!”) And the excess of huggie-kissie throughout the cycle fell into the category of human, all-too human.

09-Gott-rl--250.gif: Gordon Hawkins (Gunther), Janice Baird (Brünnhilde), Stig Andersen (Siegfried), and Marie Plette (Gutrune), with supernumeraries and members of the Seattle Opera chorus. © Rozarii Lynch photo

The designs and costumes by Lynch and Martin Pakledinaz seems to have grown richer in color and beauty — due perhaps to increasingly sophisticated lighting by Peter Kaczorowski. This is clearly the current forerunner among American Rings, and one looks forward to its return for a final run in 2013.

Wes Blomster

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