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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.
08 Dec 2009
Tchaikovsky’s Sure-Footed ‘Slippers’
Spearheaded by a stunning design concept for The Tsarina’s Slippers, London’s Covent Garden served up as delectable a production as could be desired, and introduced its lucky patrons to a jewel of an under-performed comic opera in the bargain.
Tchaikovsky’s seldom seen opus is not, to be sure, in the same league as his
Onegin, Queen of Spades or even Mazeppa. But
Slippers is nevertheless chockful of the musical ingredients that
inform the composer’s weightier works, and the master’s melodic gifts were
often in evidence. Most of us (this listener included) were afforded that rare
experience of discovering a work that was totally new to us, even if the
musical vocabulary was well grounded in our ears. Each character was afforded
at least one major set-piece, and if we were often at odds over the
“do-we-clap-or-shouldn’t-we?-dilemma,” that only added to the
The riotously colorful production design appeared as though the creators had
taken the most magnificent Palekh lacquer boxes, the airiest of Arthur Rackham
drawings, and the wittiest work of Maurice Sendak — put them all in a bag
and shook them up — and then let them tumble onto the stage of the Royal
Opera. Seldom has a stage picture(s) been so effective in furthering the
effectiveness of a comic opera.
Maxim Mikhailov as the Devil and Larissa Diadkova as Solokha
Set designer Mikhail Mokrov devised a spectacularly busy show curtain that
delighted the eye and established the tone of the proceedings. One remarkably
apt effect followed another: a beautifully judged deep blue town drop with the
requisite devil painted on the church steeple in a field of orange;
meticulously detailed rustic interiors; a host of wagon insets that were as
functional as they were cheeky; a haunting moon drop; a joyous Maypole (or
whatever-the-heck a Maypole is called in winter!); and tongue-in-cheek flying
effects as the characters take wing on their broomsticks.
Too, there was never a false moment in the atmospheric specials and area
illumination of Rick Fisher’s splendid lighting design. Tatiana Noginova
took full advantage of the vivid possibilities of folk costuming to fashion
dazzling attire that was at once eccentric, eye-catching, complementary to the
scenery, and complimentary to the performers. Ms. Noginova not only charmed us
with faux animal/devil costumes, but also impressed us with the easy elegance
of the dancers’ attire for the more formal ballet segments.
Having recently read some article or another expounding on the loss of
national personality in Russian voices, that writer obviously never hear this
bunch of soloists. For here was a whole cast (not all Russian) who had
“the sound.” You know, the kind of edgy, full-throated sound with
generous vibrato that the likes of Vishnevskaya once commanded.
In the key role of Oxana (she who asks for her lover to bring her the
titular footwear), Olga Guryakova had a lot going for her. A little too much,
perhaps at first. In the first act, Ms. Guryakova seemed a bit too loud and
full-throated for the music at hand. Her first aria and scene inside the house
cried out for limpid, plangent singing above the staff, and while she certainly
had all the notes and sang musically, I couldn’t help but wonder what Renee
might have made of those hauntingly lovely phrases. But then, whoa, wait a
minute! The demands on our heroine ratcheted up in Act Two, and let me tell
you, that pretty-as-a-dainty-princess Olga rode the orchestra with ease, and
with clarion high notes. Thrilling stuff that. My previous experience with her
gifts was in the title role of Rusalka in Brussels last season and I
remember thinking then, too, that while she is very talented and stage savvy, I
wish she could caress the melancholy phrases as effectively as she commands the
It is perhaps unfair to muse too hard or long on Vsevold Grivnov’s
take on Vakula since he was announced as “feeling a cold coming
on.” He is a charming bear of a personality that really emanates a
happiness to be on stage, and much of his singing gave pleasure. He seemed to
be holding back on this occasion, as his pleasing tenor lacked the same vocal
presence as his soprano’s. He sings big roles in major houses, manages to pace
himself to spout some buzzy top notes when required, and performs with
conviction and stylistic acumen. I would certainly love to hear Mr. Grivnov
another time when he is operating at full steam.
The formidable Larissa Diadkova is flat out giving the star performance of
the show as the witch Solokha. Hers is a rock solid technique with a thorough
understanding of communication of vocal line and text, delivered with a killer
smile and a set of pipes that can pin you to your seat. Ms. Diadkova is
peerless in this repertoire, and she seems to be having the time of her life.
So are we. Veteran Sergei Leiferkus may not have the mellifluous spin in his
baritone of yore, but he sang with unparalleled elegance and poise. A sprightly
Maxim Mikhailov worked the stage delightedly and offered a cleanly sung,
Viacheslav Voynarovskiy and Alexander Vassiliev did all that was required as
the Schoolmaster and Pan Golova, respectively, not least of which was walking
around “trapped” in sacks to avoid discovery after their lusting
visits to Solokha. Vladimir Matorin (Chub) was certainly extremely tall and
extremely loud. This is a big voice and a big boy, but I had the feeling that
Matorin was content to let his stature and volume do the job of creating a
character, of which there is more to be mined with a more thoughtful reading.
John Upperton was a secure Panas and Jette Parker Young Artist Changhan Lim
showed real promise with a lovely rendition of the Wood Goblin.
Last but surely not least, Gary Avis, Mara Galeazzi and the other dancers of
the Royal Ballet contributed mightily to the evening’s magic with highly
assured performances of Alastair Marriott’s memorable choreography. In
fact, so fine, so clean was the execution of the substantial dance segments,
that it had the unfortunate effect of throwing into high relief the fact that
the stage direction was. . .well. . .a bit clunky.
I have enjoyed Francesca Zambella’s work on a number of occasions. .
.with musical drama. The talented Ms. Zambella seems less attuned to lighter
works (at least based on this show and the rather tepid The Little
Mermaid.) The cast is certainly gamely giving their all. However,
enthusiastic mincing and prancing; unabashed mugging and playing to the
balcony; and random semaphoring are not a substitute for comic interaction
grounded in honesty and natural by-play. The specificity and focus of the
director’s dramatic work were too often absent here.
Conductor Alexander Polianichko offered quite a substantive reading that
seemed infused with the correct style and which ultimately blossomed into
spirited music-making. For the first third of the evening, however, the pit
seemed a bit off form, indeed curiously muted, with a couple of fluffs in
exposed solo work that are surprising from a band that is usually spot on.
Happily, midway through Act One the group caught fire and kept up a polished
rendition to the end. I have to say, it was curious to have reprised the final
chorus accompaniment as instrumental curtain call music! A first for me in the
opera house. . .
Minor carping aside, the Royal Opera took a gamble that the public would
welcome a work that was virtually unknown, and welcome it they did. As the
giant golden shoe rolled on at show’s end and served as a lovers’ carriage, I
was quite ready to watch it all over and be enchanted again. It is to be hoped
that this winning production might have a long life, for the piece deserves a
wider hearing. In the end then, the Slippers fit, the audience
cheered, and if we came out (just a bit) humming the scenery, it was a grand
occasion, fit for a Tsarina.