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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
06 Oct 2009
Imogen Cooper's Birthday at the Wigmore Hall
This wasn't an ordinary concert but something very special. The Wigmore Hall was honouring Imogen Cooper on her 60th birthday. She is greatly loved here, both as soloist and as partner in song recitals. The atmosphere was electric. The house was packed, with many famous pianists and singers in the audience. It was a historic occasion, but it felt like a party among friends.
Imogen Cooper is a superlative artist, so it might seem unfair to comment on her appearance, but she looked truly radiant, her face lit up with heartfelt happiness. Few deserve a tribute like this more than she, for she’s formidably dedicated. She could easily have chosen a programme to showcase her skills as soloist, with a special gift for Schubert, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. Instead, she chose to highlight others with whom she’s worked with. “I didn’t feel like working too hard”, she joked, in typical self effacing manner.
Imogen Cooper was a child prodigy sent to Germany, France and Austria, where she developed her formidable technique. Being isolated, she turned to Romantic poetry and song. Her affinity for Lieder was formed at an early age and is highly intuitive. Wolfgang Holzmair used to say he couldn’t imagine working with a pianist who didn’t instinctively live the texts as well as the music. Then he met Cooper and the rest is history. Theirs is one of the most enduring partnerships in the Lieder world.
It would be almost impossible to imagine an Imogen Cooper tribute without involving Holzmair in some way.Together, they’ve pioneered the songs of another great Lieder relationship, Robert and Clara Schumann and have mnade a notable recording. The two sets of songs by Robert Schumann chosen here date from 1840, the year Robert and Clara were finally able to marry, which inspired an explosion of song. Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch Im Divan I and II (op 26 nos 5 and 6) are droll songs about getting drunk and louche, performed with folksy humour. In Venezianisches Lied I and II *(op 25 nos. 17 and 18), Cooper’s playing evoked the gentle rocking of oars steadily pacing through lagoons, as Holzmair sings of gondoliers and serenades on moonlit balconies. Clara’s songs *O Lust, O Lust *op 23 no 6) and *Die stille Lotosblume (op 13 no 6) have less obvious character, surprisingly as Clara was the first great female pianist to have an international career. Nonetheless, Holzmair and Cooper presented her songs with conviction.
As a treat, suitable for the party atmosphere, Holzmair and Cooper did a playful encore - a song from an operetta of the 1930’s by Robert Stolz. It’s a joyful ditty about dancing and happiness. Stolz was a lavishly lucky man who made and lost and remade several fortunes. At the age of 60, bald, broke and exiled, he was arrested in Paris when the Germans occupied. A few weeks before, he’d met a beautiful 19 year old heiress, who promptly sprung him from prison and married him. She still lives in Vienna, keeping his flame. Another reason to celebrate !
Imogen Cooper [Photo by Benjamin Ealovega courtesy Askonas Holt]
Cooper’s partnership with Mark Padmore is more recent. Holzmair and Padmore sang Mendelssohn duets for tenor and baritone (op 52, nos 1,2 amnd 3) followed by
Wasserfärht (op 50 no 4), where the voices bob up and down, like waves on the open sea while the piano melody surges forth like the ship in the poem. Padmore followed the set with four songs from Schubert. I’m very fond of Padmore’s work in baroque repertoire, but in Lieder he’s rather understated, though on an evening as genial as this it didn’t matter. Cooper provided plenty of vigour and personality. In *Die Sterne *(D939) she played the twinkling “starlight” motifs vividly, and the song came to life.
Imogen Cooper and Sophie Wieder-Atherton played a group of Janáček and Schumann pieces for piano and cello. The combination brought out the folk tunes both used, but in very different ways. Most of these pieces favoured the cello, so Wieder-Atherton took the lead, Cooper provided sensitive support.
Getting together a group of musicans like this was a wonderful opportunity to present repertoire normally beyond the scope of a song or conventional piano recital. This was a rare chance to hear Schubert’s Auf dem Strom (D 943). Voice, piano and cello weave together in counterpoise. Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis then played the four hand Fantasy in F minor (D940). Both works arevery late Schubert, both performed in the composer’s presence. Schubertiades were intimate, friendly affairs, where people got together to enjoy good music in a convivila mood : perfect for a celebration like this.
Appropriately the encore brought everyone together. It was Brahm’s Liebesliederwalzer no 3,. “I wonder they we thought of that?”, quipped Cooper with a cheerful smile. Then Holzmair and Padmore began to sing. “O die Frauen ! O die frauen ! wie sie Wonne tauen. Wäre lang ein Mönch geworden, wäre nicht die Frauen !” (Women are bliss, if not for them, we’d be monks)
Mendelssohn : Ich wollt’, meine Liebe ergösse sich, Abschiedslied der Zugvögel, Gruß, Wasserfärht
Schubert : An die Laute, Abendstern, Daß sie hier gewesen, Die Sterne
Clara Schumann : O Lust, O Lust, Die stille Lotosblume
Robert Schumann : Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan i and II, Venezianische Lieder I and II
Janáček : Pohádka no 1, 2 and 3
Robert Schumann : Stücke im Volkston 2 and 3
Schubert : Auf dem Strom, Fantasy in F minor for piano duet