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Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
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.
03 Nov 2009
Flavio and Alcina by ETO
In celebration of their 25th birthday and the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel, English Touring Opera has devised Handelfest, an extravaganza of five operas (Flavio, Teseo, Tolomeo, Alcina and Ariodante) and a wide variety of masterclasses and workshops taking in several of the company’s usual touring venues.
Before setting off from London, however,
ETO has chosen the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre —
which, as the operatic home of the London Handel Festival, is the
capital’s premier venue for Handel opera — to launch this ambitious
With four of the productions being revivals of recent stagings performed in
the course of ETO’s ordinary tours, the Handelfest’s one original
staging is Flavio, a piece which has never quite managed to find a
foothold in the repertoire perhaps on account of its opera semiseria status
which makes it something of a curiosity in Handel’s canon. The
combination of serious drama and broad comedy, which is how it is often played
here, doesn’t always sit easily; when our heroine’s lover, Guido,
kills his prospective father-in-law, Lotario, in a duel, it’s difficult
not to remember that the challenge came about as a result of his own
father’s preposterous overreaction to a slap in the face.
Flavio himself is actually a relatively small role, though the machinations
of the plot are precipitated by the eponymous monarch’s desire to
overcome such minor annoyances as fathers and existing lovers and have his
wicked way with a certain young lady of the court. Sung by Clint van der Linde
in a flexible and penetrating countertenor, this was one of two characters in
the opera which were given a light or comic aspect throughout. The pomp and
circumstance surrounding Flavio’s position here manifest themselves in a
series of self-consciously theatrical gestures, beginning with the red carpet
that unfurls itself behind him as a train when he makes his first appearance,
while his personal demeanour is debonair and more than slightly camp.
This and the comic bluster of tenor Joseph Cornwell’s Ugone (he of the
aforementioned slapped face) were in vivid contrast to what is at heart a dead
straight production. In costumes of Handel’s own period against a very
simple midnight-blue set, the serious centre of the piece is represented by
soprano Paula Sides as Emilia. A little acidity in the top notes
notwithstanding, her soprano is characterful with a slightly covered and smoky
timbre and she has real stage presence. As Guido, James Laing’s
countertenor is not a robust or powerful sound, but it is clear and even and
his delivery of the words eloquent, particularly in his confrontation with
Lotario — the pivotal scene in which the opera’s serious and
frivolous sides collide. Vocally, he finally allowed himself to shine in his
slow aria (‘Amor, nel mio penar’) — and here the visual
picture was at its most stark, with Guido alone and spotlit against the dark
blue background, in contrast to the assortment of props and stage clutter that
tended to accompany the more comic characters.
The dramatic middle ground is provided by the secondary lovers, Vitige and
Teodata. A plum role for a juvenile female alto (even playing a member of her
own sex — so rare in Handel!) it is Teodata who Flavio decides to win at
all costs. Carolyn Dobbin captures her uncomplicated sexiness beautifully, with
a relaxed and attractive presence and excellent diction. As the jealous Vitige,
the Norwegian mezzo Angelica Voje had a voice which readily evoked that of a
hot-blooded youth — light and flexible but still mettlesome.
The baritone Andrew Slater, though a little short of depth in his lower
register, presented a credible account of the unfortunate Lotario —
passed over for promotion in favour of Ugone, and slain by Guido.
Throughout the Handelfest several of the artists are performing and covering
multiple roles, and the conductor of Flavio goes one step further — he is
the countertenor Jonathan Peter Kenny, who is appearing as Polinesso in
Ariodante. His conducting was sensitive to the singers, never
overwhelming the lighter voices, and providing a base upon which the fuller
lyric voices could bloom.
Two days later came a revival of Conway’s 2005 staging of
Alcina. As in its original run, this production alters the shape of
the work quite considerably due to the practical necessity of fitting it into a
three-hour slot; there is no chorus (the soloists form an ensemble where
musically necessary) and the treble/soprano role of Oberto is dispensed with
altogether, an omission which is arguably authentic on the grounds that it was
a late addition to the opera. Even so, that’s one high voice lost to the
opera’s colour palette, and another is sidelined — Morgana’s
opening aria is also consigned to the cutting-room floor, and delaying the only
interval until the middle of Act 2 takes the emphasis away from her usually
show-stopping Act 1 finale, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’. The cumulative
effect is a leaching of lightness from the piece.
Celeste Lazarenko, Nathan Vale and Natasha Jouhl from Alcina
It is possible that this was conceived deliberately in conjunction with the
stage concept. Alcina dwells in a mouldering classical palace, its textiles
threadbare, its chandelier crumpled on the floor and its splendid-looking
harpsichord flooded with a pool of water. It is a stifling world. And Celeste
Lazarenko’s Morgana was subtler than the usual sparkling soubrette: shy
and nicely vulnerable, and she has plenty of warmth at the core of her
elegantly poised light-lyric soprano.
That is not to say that the performance was short on lustre. Soprano Natasha
Jouhl’s account of the title role was exotic, glamorous and fulsomely
sung (and not in any way fazed by the shadow of the exceptional Amanda Echalaz,
who sang it in the 2005 run). The other lustrous performance, albeit in a more
conservative capacity, came from the Bradamante of Carolyn Dobbin, the one cast
member common to both Alcina and Flavio, this time in a much
more familiar Handelian archetype: the wronged woman in male disguise chasing
her faithless beloved. This piece of cross-dressing, one of those things one is
generally supposed to have read the synopsis in order to work out, is neatly
explained by a staged scene during the overture.
Wendy Dawn Thompson cut a dashing figure as a hot-blooded and
easily-distracted young man, but vocally was a frustrating Ruggiero, her pale
tone failing to match the weight of the other voices and (especially) failing
to engage with the virile masculinity of the orchestral and vocal writing in
‘sta nell'Ircana’ (‘Trapped by a hunter’). It was
always a lightish voice, but at the moment seems hollow and dry, as if
it’s going through a transition. I wonder if she might be looking at
experimenting with some soprano repertoire?
Under conductor Robert Howarth, the orchestral palette was vivid and the
playing brisk (the tempo of Oronte’s first aria especially so, tautly
delivered by Nathan Vale) if not always refined.
The tour, with its versatile ensemble shared variously between the five
operas, continues to Malvern, Exeter, Bath, Snape and Cambridge.
Ruth Elleson © 2009