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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a
record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation.
Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and
Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma.
05 Mar 2010
Ariadne auf Naxos, New York
As the first familiar themes of Ariadne came from the pit, I felt
myself sinking — sinking from a tense, dreary, daily world into a sort of
ecstatic fantasy — a place where all was happy, funny, romantic, inane,
fateful and surprising all at once — Sarah Connolly superb, Kathleen Kim
charming, Nina Stemme full-throated,
Kyrill Petrenko bringing out all the
elegant, edgy Schwarmerei of a score that is supremely sophisticated
without being too sophisticated to believe in fanciful dreams, and the
production, for once in a long while, was a production of the opera being
performed, so that all the parts fit together instead of sticking out like
bleeding, inefficiently amputated limbs. All was bliss. I can’t remember
the last time I so thoroughly enjoyed being at the Met.
You remember the colorful Elijah Moshinsky production, with its vertiginous
three-story farthingales on the earth spirits, its rather overdone acrobatics,
its sky map giving way to shipscape giving way to setting (or is it rising?)
sun? Well it’s as charming as ever. Laurie Feldman’s redirection
has no doubt been hampered by having a cast of comparatively slim singers for
once — her Brighella, has to wear a false tummy to live up to
commedia expectations — but all were game, and the clowns tossed
Zerbinetta about in the air in mid-roulade without hampering her breath
control. (Diana Damrau, over in La Fille du Régiment, take notice.)
Kathleen Kim as Zerbinetta and Sarah Connolly as the Composer
Sarah Connolly, who sang the Composer radiantly, is not a pretty woman, and
she makes her looks work for her in her frequent assumption of trouser roles
(Giulio Cesare, Romeo, Ariodante). As a lover, she is sometimes less than
convincing, but she was irresistibly right this time for the adolescent,
idealistic musician, Strauss’s tribute to his beloved Mozart:
clumsy-charming and visibly a-quiver when a seated Zerbinetta casually leaned
on his knee. Connolly sang the little air to Cupid and the fervent hymn to
Music (the two gods, one might say, who preside over this opera) with a fervent
delight that reminded more than one listener of Troyanos and was certainly the
most enthralling account of the part to be heard at the Met since her day.
Lance Ryan as Bacchus
I think I’ve never heard a bad Zerbinetta — they’re either
good or terrific in my experience, which goes back to Reri Grist — and
Kathleen Kim (if not quite Swenson or Dessay) was on the terrific end of the
spectrum. She is one of the tiny Zerbinettas (a group including Grist
and Dessay), and she makes use of her size and agility to boss big
folks to great comic effect. Her bewitchment of the hapless Composer is quite
believable. In the early scenes her trills were on the colorless side, but all
was in place by the time her “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” began. In
that bravura number, where the cascades of ornament can often lack color, she
made the notes identifiable notes and brought down the house.
Nina Stemme is too rare a visitor on these shores, as the great dramatic
German roles are currently in disfavor here or tend to be performed by
second-rate Americans. She sang Ariadne with torrents of earth-deep sound in
colors of cognac and sherry, rising to superb heights, rich with frustrated
— and then idealized — emotion. She is also as slim as any lover of
the opera could desire, and plays a glamorous send-up of a diva.
The trio of “earth-spirits” were charming — and in the
higher reaches of the house, I’m told, blended with unusual delicacy.
Though all very decent, the men were not quite so fine as the women in the
cast. This is not a tragedy in Strauss, who would have done without male voices
entirely if he’d been permitted to do so. Lance Ryan sang the high-lying
role of Bacchus without a squall or a crack, in itself an achievement, but with
a dryish color that did not always give pleasure. Jochen Schmeckenbecher sang
an admirable Music-Master, and the comedians were ably handled by Markus Werba
as Harlekin — one has heard more sensuous serenades — Mark
Schowalter, Joshua Bloom and Sean Panikkar. In this staging, Scaramuccio and
Truffaldino have very little to do and no distinction, but Panikkar gave
Brighella a distinctive sound and antics.
Michael Devlin — surely not the man I heard sing Ptolemy to
Sills’s Cleopatra forty years ago! And the Count to Te Kanawa’s
Countess thirty years ago! But yes, it was he — performed the speaking
role of the Major-Domo with archducal hauteur, a man so snooty he regards
singing in an opera as beneath his dignity.
Kyrill Petrenko demonstrated clarity and genuine feeling for Strauss’s
mingling of delirious motifs, and produced not just a musical fabric but a
philosophic statement. The singers all found him easy to work with — they
went about their comical antics without appearing to pay him any attention, but
they were always together and he was always having fun. So were we.