Recently in Reviews
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
08 Mar 2010
Brilliant Schubert programme: Matthias Goerne, Wigmore Hall
This second of two recitals of Schubert songs by Matthias Goerne and Helmut Deutsch at the Wigmore Hall, London was superb, the programme created with exceptional intelligence and insight into the inner dynamics of Schubert’s music.
Starting a recital with An die untergehende Sonne was daring. Immediately we’re thrown into darkness and the murky depths of inner consciousness. “Immer tiefer, immer leiser, immer ernster”. The text may be peaceful, but the dizzying descent in the piano part hints at something more unsettling. Without a break, Goerne launched into Der Tod und das Mädchen. The tolling prelude makes it clear this sleep is death. The poet is Matthias Claudius, but the concept goes right back to the Middle Ages, It permeates Schubert’s aesthetic.
The theme recurs in Die Rose and Viola. Note the contrast between the two poems and Schubert’s settings. Die Rose is a poem by Freidrich von Schlegel. It’s beautifully, concisely written. The first stanza in particular scans so tightly, it’s like music: no wonder Schubert was drawn to it. It’s such a good poem, it’s a joy to read and savour word by word. Schlegel covers a wide range of images in a few brief lines. Goerne respects each word, colouring and shading with nuance, so the rose comes alive in sound, before it slowly fades away.
In contrast Viola, is to a poem by Schubert’s rakish friend Franz von Schober. “Schneeglöcklein” runs the refrain. Six verses down the violet awakes. Seven stanzas later she flees “von der tiefsten Angst verfleischt”. The violet’s come out too soon and is caught by the frost. Silver bells, bridegrooms, flowers anthropomorphized so corny that even Disney might cringe. Even Schubert struggles to make sense of the endless verses. Both Schubert and von Schober would have known Goethe’s poem Das Vielchen, and probably Mozart’s setting of it. Strophic ballads don’t have to be maudlin. Goerne makes the song believable by singing without excess ornament. After Die Rose, it’s hard to take Viola. It’s a measure of Goerne’s skill that he can pull it off.
Another very intelligent pairing : Auf dem Wasser zu Singen and Der Zwerg. Both songs describe death on the water, but in sharp contrast. In the former, Schubert’s melody dances delicately, so you can almost see the “schimmernden Wellen” as the boat gently glides on the lake. Don’t be lulled. The little boat is a metaphor for the passing of time. The poem, by Friedrich Graf zu Stollberg-Stolberg ( double barreled prince) is altogether more sophisticated than the shock horror gothic in Der Zwerg which ends in suicide-murder.
Matthäus von Collin’s poem isn’t bad, though. Rather than being a subtle mood piece it’s a saga in miniature. The dwarf and the queen have a long, complex history. She willingly accepts being murdered, even absolving the killer. It’s pretty kinky. Schubert doesn’t exaggerate the lurid colours, though his setting is dramatic. This song is always a show stopper, it’s so good. Again, Goerne doesn’t give in to pathos, his singing giving the dwarf dignity and respect. That last line, “An keiner Küste” is so chillingly sung that Goerne hints that the real horror is yet to come. The dwarf might not escape in death, but be cursed to sail forever on the lake, trapped in time.
But as usual, Goethe gets the last word. Pairing An die Entfernte with Ganymed brings out another dynamic in this extremely well planned programme. The first ends with the plaintive call “O komm, Geliebete, mir zurück”, and the second contains the soaring phrase “Ich komme, ich komme ! Wohin? Ach, wohin?” Schubert emphasizes the significance of this phrase by setting it in high relief, pauses on either side to accentuate the arc in the line. And then, “hinab strebt’s ‘s hinauf!,” Goerne’s voice lifts upwards, impressively. He catches the impatience in the song - “Mir! Mir!” and “Aufwärts!”. The stillness that prevailed before is now blown away by urgency. The concert began with the downward spiral of the piano prelude of An die untergehende Sonne, but ended with energetic animation, thrusting upwards.