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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Nina Stemme as Ariadne [Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera]
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,

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Ariadne: Nina Stemme; Zerbinetta: Kathleen Kim; Composer: Sarah Connolly; Najade: Anne-Carolyn Bird; Dryade: Tamara Mumford; Echo: Erin Morley; Bacchus: Lance Ryan; Music Master: Jochen Schmeckenbecher; Harlekin: Markus Werba; Brighella: Sean Panikkar; Scaramuccio: Mark Schowalter; Truffaldino: Joshua Bloom. Production by Elijah Moshinsky. Chorus and orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, conducted by Kyrill Petrenko. Performance of February 15.

Above: Nina Stemme as Ariadne

All photos by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera


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.)

ARIADNE_Kim_and_Connolly_03.gifKathleen 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.

ARIADNE_Ryan_as_Bacchus_282.gifLance 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.

John Yohalem

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