Recently in Reviews
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
13 Oct 2009
‘10 for 10’ recital gets 10 out of 10 for performance and audience
The Wigmore Hall never stands still: not content with having increased its audience by 300% over the past year, it now seeks both to reward its loyal patrons for their support in acquiring the Lease, and to bring in new audience members, with an innovative series of ten concerts where all the seats are priced at £10.
The artists range from the stellar to the emergent, and if Saturday night’s recital is anything to go by, the standard is as high as the ‘usual’ Wigmore evening, but with the added excitement of a much younger audience demographic. Not that I object to an audience composed mainly of oldsters (that is, the 50-100s) such as myself, but it’s good to see a majority of the audience under 40 enjoying a finely balanced, deeply serious evening.
John Mark Ainsley has pretty much made a career out of being surprising: after all, this is an English tenor who never sounds ‘English’ in that dreaded Oxbridge sense; an elegant presence who never comes across as merely that; a Lieder specialist who hardly ever follows conventional ways with a song; and an opera singer who always provides a new and different perspective on a role. I have to admit that my heart sank on seeing the Heine ‘Schwanengesang’ settings as the central works, and grumbled that I would much prefer more Schumann (‘Dichterliebe’ for preference) since Ainsley is an especially sensitive interpreter of that composer, and anyway lyric tenors ought to leave the heavy stuff alone
and so on. However, I was wrong.
Howsoever you order them, the Heine settings are a demanding test for any singer, and Ainsley sang them with his customary subtlety and style, but was also able to produce impressive fortes in ‘Der Doppelgänger’ and ‘Der Atlas,’ the exposed, raw G at bar 34 in the former not so much a howl of outrage as an impassioned plea. The eerie calm created by Malcolm Martineau’s playing in the first part of the song was echoed by Ainsley’s quite chilling phrasing of ‘auf dem selben Platz,’ and his superb diction at ‘was äffst du nach mein Liebesleid’ made the song’s atmosphere all the more hectic. ‘Am Meer’ and ‘Ihr Bild’ provided more expected pleasures with beautiful tone and naturally easy legato line, although there was no self-indulgence with either, the tone’s sweetness readily discarded for a bitter one in ‘dass ich dich verloren hab.’
The Schumann group was a model of Lieder style, ‘Mit Myrthen und Rosen’ sung without any archness or sentimentality, the line ‘wie ein Lavastrom, der den Aetna entquillt’ proving that it’s possible for a lyric tenor voice to create a dramatically powerful statement, and the final ‘flüstern mit Wehmut und Liebeshauch’ caressed with aching tenderness. Liszt’s settings of Heine are of course much less familiar than those of Schumann, and Ainsley and Martineau brought out their melodic invention and rich harmonies, especially in ‘Du bist wie eine Blume,’ although the Schumann version sung as an encore reminded us of that composer’s greater sensitivity to Heine’s poetry.
The second half of the concert was all French music, Poulenc’s ‘Tel jour telle nuit’ revealing Ainsley’s deep understanding of the composer’s dictum that ‘calmness alone can give intensity to a love poem’ most finely shown in ‘Nous avons fait la nuit.’ Of Gounod’s ‘Cinq Mélodies,’ the highlight was certainly ‘Au rossignol,’ mesmerizingly played and sung with the kind of rapt contemplation and perfect diction which epitomize this singer’s art.