Recently in Reviews
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.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
11 Oct 2009
Orfeo at La Scala
Robert Wilson staged Salome at La Scala in 1987, installing a troop of student actors on the stage to enact some sort of abstract action flow that had no discernible relationship to the Salome libretto, meanwhile sung by concert dressed opera stars huddled on a corner of the stage.
Had the Kent Nagano pit not been appallingly lackluster perhaps some chance illuminations of the Strauss score might have been struck, as was Mr. Wilson’s intention.
Just now, 22 years later Mr. Wilson has struck out again, this time with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a few distinguished early music singers exercising abstracted hand and arm gestures and stilted dance movements, and a well-known Wozzeck screeching Orfeo in whiteface. Had Rinaldo Alessandrini not been in the pit there would have been no flashes of the Monteverdi genius, and as it was these were reduced to a very few.
The Alessandrini Monteverdi trilogy at La Scala has been eagerly anticipated, particularly after his sublime cycle of Monteverdi madrigals (complete) at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago. Mo. Alessandrini brings a restoration to these old scores much as faded and mutilated Renaissance paintings are imbued with vibrant original line and color through restoration. In the visual arts this is accomplished by complicated scientific process, in the spheres of music Alessandrini must rely on his dramatic intuitions.
He finds infinite colors and timbres to the narrower tones of old instruments and to the whiter production of the human voice. He hones the vowels, carves the consonants and sculpts the phrases of a pristine Italian, and he drives its rhythms and tempos to embrace larger periods. He generates the precise moment when emotion bursts into syllable and sentence. Under Alessandrini’s baton the Monteverdi word does indeed become the Orphic moment.
Robert Wilson is an architect. The art of architecture, it is said, is frozen music. He chose a Titian painting, Venus with Eros and an Organist, as his visual metaphor for the world’s first great opera. In the painting two small forests of cypress trees nearly converge in a strong perspective that carries our erotic imagination suggestively beyond the foreground dominated by a lush female nude scrutinized by the male organist twisting around from his keyboard.
Scene from Orfeo [Photo by Marco Brescia - La Scala Photographic Archives]
In Wilson’s version exactly twelve perfectly shaped trees are carefully frozen into a perspective space through his characteristic hard edge, sculptural lighting. Wilson replaces Titian’s sumptuous foreground nude and the leering organist with his Orpheus who dominates the foreground, rushing back and forth across the stage apron. Titian’s pastoral nudity was replaced by the off-white costumes (the flesh color of Titians’ Venus) that generically covered the shepherdesses and made the shepherds comically plumb-shaped rather than sveltely swain-shaped.
The familiar characters of this well-known myth were presented as elaborately dressed Renaissance mannequins who moved from frozen gesture to frozen gesture, Monteverdi’s tumbling torrents of words stopped in their tracks by Wilson’s motionless visuals. The Messaggera who delivers the emotional account of Euridice’s death was Sara Mingardo, known for her fine recordings with Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano that have earned her the reputation as the Maria Callas of early music. But for her extended second act monologue she was straight-jacketed by the staging and by a formless black dress, Alessandrini’s simple organ continuo unable to breath life into this great moment of early opera, sadly lost in the vast spaces of this huge theater.
Austrian baritone Georg Nigl was Orfeo. Though a credentialed early music singer he is better known on major European stages as a Wozzeck. He has a sizable voice and persona that is well able to fill large theaters. He lacks both a beautiful voice and a sympathetic presence, thus he was unable to project the strong humanity that overflows much mannerist art and particularly these emotionally heightened Monteverdi monologues. Uniquely, Wilson afforded him the only dynamism allowed on the stage, keeping him prominently moving in the foreground of the stage picture. His positioning on the stage apron sometimes activated acoustical quirks in the Scala auditorium, creating echos that heightened the freakishness of his detached note ornamentations.
Left to his own devices, Alessandrini shone in the sinfornie and the orchestral ritornelli, and very nearly got the extended madrigal that closes the second act into the spheres of great music. Other than the discomfort apparent in Mr. Nigl’s delivery of the Italian language, much of the beauty of the language was present in the otherwise Italian cast, though the finely detailed Musica of early music star Roberta Invernizzi was lost in the Wilson staging and in the vastness of La Scala. The Pluto of Giovanni Battista Parodi and the Proserpina of Raffaella Milanesi made no effect, while the Caronte of Luigi de Donato was buried under a silly costume. Only among the solo shepherds were there occasional glints of real, live performances.
Robert Wilson made important theatrical discoveries, and his innovations have enlivened our ideas of theater. He established his moment in the last third of the twentieth century, and is now working to preserve his legacy through the creation of his foundation. Given the formidable scope of his upcoming projects it is apparent that the foundation has become his atelier, and that projects like this Orfeo are stamped out in his mold. The sense of theatrical discovery that was once at the heart of his work was not present in his staging of this opera.
Rinaldo Alessandrini is the man of the moment, his discoveries of new depths in old music have uncovered musical vistas yet to be explored in both old and new music. This new sense of music theater deserves an original staging, one that hears this music, a staging that explores the excitement of Mo. Alessandrini’s discoveries rather than forces them into a dated mold.