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Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
For the first time in its history, this summer Garsington Opera will present four productions as well as a large community opera. 2017 also sees the arrival of the Philharmonia Orchestra for one opera production each season for the next five years.
New work by the English artist Rachel Kneebone will be exhibited at Glyndebourne Festival 2017, which opens for public booking on 5 March.
The London-based artist has created three new sculptures inspired by two of the operas being staged at the Festival this summer - Cavalli’s Hipermestra and a new opera based on Hamlet by composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
28 Mar 2010
Angels in America, Eötvös at the Barbican for the BBC
Angels in America, Peter Eötvös’s opera based on the Tony Kushner plays, received its London premiere. This was very high profile. David Robertson conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a performance that will be broadcast internationally, online on www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
Angels in America depicts the first phase of the AIDS pandemic, in the very early 1980’s. Back then, the disease wasn’t even identified. Healthy young men were dying gruesome deaths from “Karposi’s sarcoma”, a cancer of the very old. Then apparently straight people succumbed, even bullying homophobes. It’s hard to appreciate how bad those times were, if you didn’t live through them. Yet AIDS was a turning point in society, because it exposed hypocrisy and prejudice.
Thirty years on, much has changed. In the west, people don’t die of AIDS as long as they can afford healthcare and medication. Now it’s entrenched in the Third World, particularly in Africa. We cannot be complacent.
Eötvös compresses Kushner’s seven hour saga into 2 1/2 hours.In the first part, vignettes of people experiencing death in their own way. Prior Walter (David Adam Moore) is a gay man dumped by his frightened lover. (Scott Scully). Roy Cohn (Kelly Anderson), the bully who thinks he can’t be touched, and Joe Pitt (Omar Ebrahim), the hapless married Mormon, who has to face the contradiction in his life. This concentrates dramatic focus on human relationships, and is very moving. Kushner doubled the parts, so the drama could extend beyond the immediate victims making it relevant for all society.
All roles, except the main protagonist Prior Walter, are doubled in the opera, too, Anderson and Ebrahim sing Ghosts of Plagues past, but Brian Asawa stands out. He sings no major role but a variety of subsidiaries, yet brings such assertiveness to them that they register well. His bright countertenor, these days mellowing lower in the range, extends Kushner’s ambiguity into the music.
Julia Migenes was impressive, too, as Harper Pitt, (male name, female role), Joe’s drug-ravaged wife who intuits his true nature and makes him confront his identity. She’s also Ethel Rosenberg, Roy’s nemesis and Angel Antartica. These are pivotal roles, which Migenes carries off with conviction. Janice Hall is less well served by the opera, her roles bordering on shallow stereotype.
Eötvös’s music illustrates the text nicely. Marimbas and electronics to create weird, surreal sounds, percussion to mark tension, lovely cello and violin melodies to enhance moments of individual reverie. As an extension of the play, the music is usefully mood-enhancing, so in that sense it works. He works following the text as it unfolds, which perhaps accounts for the episodic, reactive nature of the music. This works well in the first part, where the opera is spurred on by the dramatic momentum of Kushner’s vision.
In the second part, Kushner’s venturing into much more abstract territory, depicting Heaven and life after death. In the opera, the narrative isn’t coherent. Life (and the afterlife) isn’t necessarily coherent, so in a sense this unintelligibility is valid. But because music is abstract, this would have been an opportunity for Eötvös to write something distinctive. Opera is much more than film music. It’s more than illustrating text. It can reinforce the narrative with another dimension of original commentary, for opera is as much a composer’s response to a play than just the play itself.
I enjoyed this concert staging (directed by David Gately) because it showed how the simple resources of a concert staging can have a huge impact, done as thoughtfully as this. The lighting effects were superb, evoking huge vistas in the imagination. I “saw” the stars in the heavens and the lights of a night time city.
Ultimately, Angels in America works on stage because the subject is so powerful. It packs such an emotional punch that it would be hard not to be moved by the human drama in the first part. A lot of choices had to be made when Eötvös and his librettist reduced Kushner’s seven hour saga. That’s all the more reason why decisions had to be taken for maximum dramatic and musical effect. As an opera, Angels in America might have served the subject better had it been less dependent on replicating the play, and taken a more original vision.