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Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
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.
11 Oct 2009
Los Angeles “Ring” continues to amaze
It’s three down and one to go in the first-ever staging of Richard
Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at Los Angeles Opera. Following the
premiere of Siegfried, the third installment of this epic work of
music theater, it’s clear that director/designer Achim Freyer is a
The audience that packed 3,600-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the
September 26 afternoon event, was even more wildly enthusiastic about
Feyer’s work than it had been at the end of Rheingold and
Walküre that launched this $32-million project last season. (True,
there were “boos,” but they were almost totally inaudible against
the bravos heaped upon Freyer and his production team.) Yet one must ask
whether Freyer’s Wagner is as great as it seems. Has the director, whose
theory of theater was shaped in his native East Germany in Bert Brecht’s
Berlin Ensemble, really found a — if not the — key to
Wagner’s genius or has he rather created a spectacle that awes his
audience into breathless admiration?
Although Freyer is clearly a winner, the bigger question is how well Wagner
fares under his hand. Every director — even in this age of overheated
Regieoper — claims to do what the composer wanted done to
realize his intentions. Let’s start with Freyer’s most obvious
triumph: he leaves one with the desire to see the segments of this
Ring again — an opportunity that will be available when LA Opera
stages three complete cycles of the tetralolgy in 2010. Freyer brings an
immense amount to Wagner; he makes every moment an overlay of meanings
involving symbols impossible to absorb and interpret in a single exposure. Yet
his approach to Siegfried, compared to his two earlier installments of
the cycle, is relatively minimalist. The stage is uncluttered, and largely
absent are the mammoth doubles of the major characters. The staging relies
heavily on effects achieved through sophisticated lighting.
Siegfried, although rich in event with the forging of the sword,
the slaying of Dragon Fafner and the launching of the love story that will
dominate Götterdämmerung, is by far the most difficult of the
Ring operas to stage. Wagner, viewing the four-part work as a
symphony, suggested that this third chapter is a scherzo, and that has prompted
some directors to introduce all sorts of funny-bone nonsense into the staging.
Freyer — happily — goes in another direction. Nothung, the sword,
is forged vocally without the trappings of the Village Blacksmith, and
Siegfried runs Fafner through with only a blue-lighted tube. Indeed, the dragon
that dwarfs the stage in many productions is an understated Disneyesque dwarf
in top hat.
Scene from Siegfried [Photo by Monika Rittershaus courtesy of LA Opera]
One is relieved at the removal of such hackneyed attempts at
“realism.” Freyer keeps a tight lid on the scherzo idea. Humor in
Wagner? One recalls the waggish observations that Pfitzner’s monumental
Palestrina is Parsifal without the jokes.” The one line
in Siegfried that gets a laugh in this age of surtitles is the
hero’s observation as he removes Brünnhilde’s armor:
“That’s not a man!” Wagner hardly expected to split sides
Young Siegfried is — like young Parsifal — a pure fool with
everything to learn and only four hours to do so. It’s a heavy trip, and
Freyer offers all the help he can in hints and images to get the hero to his
goal. It’s the goal — Siegfried’s awakening of Brünnhilde and
the great duet that follows - that is most problematic in this staging.
Brünnhilde, despite heavily incestuous intimations on the part of Father Wotan,
is still a virgin. In terms of sexual enlightenment, however, she is light
years ahead of Siegfried who has spent his early years tumbling about the woods
with only bears as companions. In the duet a huge distance is yet to be covered
in only half an hour of music. It’s here that Freyer offers so much help
that Wagner’s music suffers.
The wealth of imagery, lighting effects and those “invisible”
imports from Kabuki drama that move slowly about the stage are a study in
excess. Text is all important here, and as the curtain fell one wished for a
concert performance of the duet to underscore this fact. Freyer’s
decision to hide Brünnhilde in a haystack — plus a towering Afro and
billowing gown — offered little help. Indeed, although Freyer is out to
illuminate text and explain the story, he often detracts from the musical
excellence of this production. That excellence is largely the work of music
director James Conlon who knows this score note by note and has built an
orchestral second to none to do his bidding. His cast, furthermore, is without
weak links. True, John Treleaven and Linda Watson, his Siegfried and
Brünnhilde, are best viewed as adequate singers, who work with intelligent
sensitivity to realize Freyer’s intentions.
Superb, on the other hand, is Graham Clark’s portrayal of
Siegfried’s guardian dwarf Mime, a role to which he has claimed almost
sole ownership for two decades. As Wotan disguised as the Wanderer Ukrainian
Vitalij Kowaljow makes his mark as the most promising young singer to tackle
this role in recent seasons. Jill Grove’s Erda is definitive.
What is most strange about this Siegfried is that it is without
emotional impact — and perhaps Freyer wants it that way. His teacher
Brecht, after all, was out to put feelings on ice and make people think in his
didactic theater. The viewer is all too absorbed by Freyer’s approach; he
keeps one thinking — or guessing at least. He is demanding, and
it’s impressing that the audience responds as positively as it does. Yet
an occasional goose bump would provide welcome relief.
A final observation: Freyer grew up secured from the decadence of Hollywood
by the Anti-Fascist Protective Wall (the official East German designation for
that structure). Yet in Los Angeles one is always aware that Hollywood is right
next door, and there is much in Freyer’s Ring — the
streaming of colored patterns, the choreography of lighted tubes — that
brings that proximity to mind. On the other hand, had Wagner had this
technology at his fingertips, he — like Bach at a Bechstein — would
have gone bonkers. He would have abandoned his insistence upon
“real” trees and rocks and lost himself in the imagination in which
Achim Freyer indulges himself perhaps a bit too freely.
Götterdämmerung, which completes the Los Angeles Ring, plays from, 3 to 25 April, 2010. Three cycles of the Ring will be on stage between May 29 and June 26, 2010.