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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. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. .
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’.
11 Oct 2009
Wozzeck in designer khaki : Salonen and Keenlyside in London
In the opera house, stagings can impress by gorgeous sets and costumes. But in semi-staged performances, there's no where to hide behind. Semi-staging tests whether a director understands the music and what its dramatic soul might be. In dramaturgy, less is more.
Alban Berg’s music is so visual that Wozzeck could lend itself extremely well to semi-staging, so this performance, at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank might have been a chance to see something truly innovative. Most of the action in this opera happens in the minds of the protagonists. So much is said in musical imagery that a concert performance can be inherently dramatic even without props. Berg builds patterns and mazes into his music, and the solo parts in the orchestra act as roles within a symphony of sound.
Unfortunately this performance turned out to be a lost opportunity. It was the final concert in an ambitious series titled “Vienna: City of Dreams 1900-1930”. Ostensibly, the concerts were part of a wider panorama presenting the music in the context of Vienna at a time of unprecedented developments, in music, literature, philosophy,art and psychology. Perhaps the message had to be blunted because the music of the Second Viennese School doesn’t promise box office success. So perhaps it was too much to expect a production that referenced the innovations in theater design that were part of Vienna’s significance. Musically, though, performances have been extremely strong. Esa-Pekka Salonen has proved his worth as head of the Philharmonia. He and this orchestra, arguably London’s finest, are an excellent match. Their performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in February was exceptionally good and fortunately was recorded. The CD is now available.
Wozzeck demands great orchestral forces, so visual impact is already built into a semi-staged performance. A sensitive production could even have made capital of the situation, focusing on what happens in the orchestra,. Even the fact that there’s barely a yard between music and and singers is no disadvantage: Wozzeck is about tight corners and entrapment.
In this performance, there was a huge screen behind the orchestra on which were projected many visual images - oil on water transparencies, montages, close-ups of the singers. This could have worked very well in theory, because Berg was interested in cinema, and his music lends itself to expression in film. In practice however, what happened on screen was busy rather than focused, distracting from rather than reinforcing the inherent drama in the music.
In opera, singers are singing “about” something. Context matters. Just as orchestral musicians need a conductor, singers need direction. Katarina Dalayman has sung Marie so often that we know what she’s capable of when truly inspired. Here she sang well, but wasn’t challenged to show her acting skills, which are usually considerable.
This was Simon Keenlyside’s debut as Wozzeck, eagerly awaited by his many admirers. Although he’s a light rather than dark baritone, at the higher registers he can catch the tension in the part, which subtly connects to the shrill tenor parts around him, and contrasts well with the bass Doctor, sung by Hans-Peter Scheidegger. Keenlyside’s forte, though, is his naturally elegant bearing. He looks aristocratic, whatever he does, even his stubble looked expensively manicured. This was a Wozzeck in designer khaki. This could well have worked, because the opera isn’t about outward appearances. With suitable direction, Keenlyside could have created character wearing a tuxedo. Wozzeck’s world is surreal, after all. Perhaps Keenlyside’s talents will be put to better use in future, more complete productions.
With semi-staging, detail counts even more than in full production. So why did Marie’s child appear in the final scene dressed in beautifully pressed, emerald green silk pajamas? We don’t know what the child’s future might be, but the indications aren’t hopeful. “Ringel, ringel Rosenkranz” sing the taunting children, and the words “Hopp, Hopp” indicate a repetitive child’s game . Berg’s fascination with circular forms and patterns would also imply the child might well end up like Wozzeck. If emerald green silk means anything, it should have been supported by other images and from the music. I also didn’t understand why the children walk on dressed in funereal black, like a cortege, Marie’s son following behind. It isn’t necessarily wrong but without substantiation it doesn’t add to the drama or to the meaning of the opera.
This is the dilemma of all stage direction faces. Visual images are open to all kinds of interpretation. They operate on many levels at the same time, and can be seen in different ways. That’s why stage direction is controversial, there’s never only one way of seeing things. Visual literacy is a skill, too, but perhaps we’ve been conditioned to TV and movies for so long, it’s a lost art. That’s why semi-staged performances are important because they concentrate the mind on the essentials of dramatic meaning. This production, directed by Jean-Baptiste Barrière seemed like grand opera manqué rather than focused concentration on the fundamentals in the drama. But getting the basics right is the key to all good direction.