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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

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At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

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Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Richard Strauss
18 Jan 2010

Elektra at the Barbican

Concert performances of operas are often problematic in that the work tends to be cut or otherwise played around with, or the venue is inappropriate - after all, these were meant to be staged pieces.

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Elektra: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet; Chrysothemis: Angela Denoke; Clytemnestra: Felicity Palmer; Orestes: Matthias Goerne; Aegisthus: Ian Storey. London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Valery Gergiev. London Symphony Chorus.


The LSO’s Elektra under Gergiev really had only one problem, which was that the orchestra was frequently too loud, and when you have a team of singers amongst whom only the Clytemnestra, the Oreste and the Second Maid actually manage to ride consistently over it, you have a somewhat unbalanced evening. It was bound to be so - Strauss’ orchestral requirement is huge, and the band really must be in a pit or there must be some other way devised to protect the singers from it.

This is not to say that distinguished playing was absent - far from it, since the LSO under Gergiev gave a searing performance, often responding to their conductor as though their lives depended on it, and achieving the all too rare distinction of making one hear parts of the music anew. If this was at the cost of a less lyrical, less poetic interpretation in parts, then it was a worthwhile one.

Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet’s Elektra was new to me, and she certainly chewed up the carpet in histrionic terms, gyrating all over the place and generally giving her all, but her voice frequently had trouble in surmounting the vast sounds coming from behind. Her finest moments were in the address to the shade of Agamemnon, ‘die um sein hohes Grab / so königliche siegestänze tanzen!’ projected with bitter ecstasy, and her almost hypnotic incantation of ‘Der ist selig, der seine Tat zu tun kommt’ to her brother at the crucial moment of decision.

It surprised me that Matthias Goerne was singing Oreste, not because his voice isn’t right for the role, but because it’s such a small part for him - perhaps his Speaker in Die Zauberflöte has given him a taste for tiny yet significant roles. This was an Oreste of brooding presence and stentorian authority, and even if we did miss a little of the more moving qualities of the recognition scene, it was a nobly conceived interpretation.

Angela Denoke certainly has what most would term ‘a Strauss soprano voice,’ and she used it most movingly in ‘Eh ich sterbe, will ich auch leben!’ providing both a tonal and dramatic contrast to her sister - the final cries of ‘Orest! Orest!’ though, could have been more gripping. Felicity Palmer’s Clytemnestra is now a classic interpretation, her grim delivery and absolute mastery of the characterization in a world of their own - why, one almost felt a grudging sympathy for the frightful old bat as she sang of her terrible nightmares.

Ian Storey did what he could with Aegisthus, but it’s never really going to work if the character simply strolls off when he dies - another problem with this kind of staged opera. The Maids were a strong group, with Ekaterina Sergeeva the most expressive and forceful, and Vuyani Mlinde’s Servant / Companion further enhanced his status as one of our finest bass soloists - he first impressed me at the RCM in 2005, and he has not disappointed since.

The audience was as crammed in the hall as the orchestra on stage, so much so that the LSO chorus had to occupy one of the side aisles, with surprisingly little diminution of the intensity needed during that final cleansing of the House of Atreus.

Melanie Eskenazi

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