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Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
15 Sep 2009
Wigmore Hall Song Competition
‘It’s a personal choice’ / ‘Of course he won - he was the only one who sang songs’ / ‘I’ll be happy if anyone but the first one wins’ (he won) / ‘There’s only one possible choice - the third one’ (he came second)
Thus various Wigmore regulars on the outcome of the Song competition - but what can you expect? Cardiff is the same - ‘Outrageous! The Counter-tenor should have won’ / ‘She only won because she was the most polished’ / ‘The tenor ought to have won / and so on. Perhaps the first statement above is the most useful, since any judgment is going to be, and in a way it’s amazing that a jury so diverse can come to any sort of agreement at all. What was not in doubt, however, was that all of the finalists (and, indeed, many of those who did not make it that far) are very likely to have great careers ahead of them.
Marcus Farnsworth has a lovely, very light, sweet baritone voice, not unlike that of Simon Keenlyside, and his programme was both daring and reassuring - daring because he began not with a lollipop but with a very serious slice of Schubert, and reassuring because it had enough variety to please everyone. ‘Nachtstück’ is the kind of thing with which you might expect Goerne to open a recital, so Marcus did well to produce such a lovely, flowing legato at ‘Du heil’ge Nacht.’ Strauss’ ‘Gefunden’ was almost as daring, showcasing the singer’s reserves of power at the end, so it was a welcome relief that he followed it with Loewe’s ‘Hinkende Jamben,’ which got some laughs from the audience. He was perhaps at his best in the English group, showing his tenorial top notes in Butterworth’s ‘Think no more, lad’ and a smooth legato line in Britten’s arrangement of ‘The last rose of summer.’ He was eloquently accompanied by the very confident, extremely sympathetic Elizabeth Burgess, whose playing I have previously enjoyed in Oxford. Marcus won the First Prize.
The soprano Erin Morley’s programme did not appeal to me very much - it felt like too much Russian and just a nod to the great Lieder composers (no Schubert) - but then that’s a very personal remark! There’s no doubt that she has a lovely voice, very bright, forward and well focused, perhaps at this time more suited to the operatic stage than the recital platform. Rossini’s ‘La fioraia fiorentina’ showed her at her confident best, and Schumann’s ‘Liebeslied’ gave a hint of how she might develop as a recitalist. She was placed third in the final.
For me, Benedict Nelson was the most promising of the finalists, and he also had the best accompanist I heard in Gary Matthewman. Of course, one is influenced by choice of programme, and theirs seemed to me to show an excellent balance of styles and moods. At the moment, Benedict’s French is a little heavy to really catch the atmosphere of Duparc’s ‘La vie antérieure’ but his Mahler and Schumann suggested a maturity beyond that expected of someone who is only 26. ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ was a very ambitious choice, but he pulled it off well, showing a fine legato line at ‘Auf der Strasse steht ein Lindenbaum.’ Schumann’s ‘Die alten, bösen Lieder’ needed a little more colour and variety in the tone, but Gary’s nachspiel was finely done. Benedict came second in the final.
Sidney Outlaw has a real personality, and was probably the best communicator of the four. He was the audience favourite, but I felt he let himself down with some of his choices - ‘Erlkönig’ is simply too well known and it’s too easy to compare its performance to that of just about every great baritone, and the ‘American’ group felt like too much conforming to type. Kudos to him, though, for being the only one to actually sing something written in this millennium. I felt his baritone had not quite got the measure of the Fauré or the Duparc, but his Brahms showed much promise, especially in the darker parts of ‘Von ewiger Liebe.’ Sidney was placed fourth.
This was another testament to the power and position of the Wigmore Hall: an audience packed not only with the great and the good and the grey-haired, but with the volubly enthusiastic young, enjoyed four mini-recitals of exceptional promise, by singers chosen out of a vast pool of talent containing at least as many again who will surely go on to great things - I would single out the baritone Gerard Collett, the soprano Erica Eloff and the pianist James Bailleu, but I am sure that those who were present for all the stages will have their equally worthy choices. The Pianists’ prize was won by James Bailleu, and he and Gerard Collett won the Jean Meikle Prize for a Duo.