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On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
23 Mar 2010
Genoveva — Schumann at UCL Opera, London
Genoveva and Lohengrin both premiered in the summer of 1850. Wagner disparaged Schumann, as he disparaged Mendelssohn (Schumann’s hero). Wagner’s opinions were influential. Genoveva has been eclipsed, saddled with a reputation for being hard to stage.
Yet Schumann could write dramatic music as the much-loved Overture demonstrates, and the music in the Overture infuses the opera. His songs prove how well he could write for voice. His range as composer was wider than Wagner’s, and he was formidably well-read. What might Schumann have achieved had he continued writing after the age of 45?
UCL Opera is an unusually adventurous company. Since 1951 it has staged no less than 19 world or British premieres, and last year staged Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth . Next year, they’re planning Weber’s Die drei Pintos (completed by Mahler). Because UCL Opera does repertoire where there’s little entrenched performance tradition, its approach can be fresh and imaginative.
The original folk tale on which Genoveva is based dates back to the Middle Ages. Indeed it’s the basis of stories like Snow White, for in legend, Genoveva lived in the forest, protected by animals and by her virtue. Significantly, though, Schumann rejected the medieval concept, choosing instead to base his opera on Friedrich Hebbel’s more psychological drama, published only four years previously. Schumann wanted a “modern” take on the story. As Hebbel said “Any drama will come alive only to the extent that it expresses the spirit of the age which brings it forth”.
Schumnann’s Genoveva focuses on fundamentals — good versus evil, integrity versus deceit, the individual against the mob. Such concepts apply just as much today as they did in Schumann’s time. Its basis is the dynamic between Golo and Genoveva, who isn’t as passive as the legend would have. This gives the opera inherent drama and energy, which a really good performance can bring out.
Schumann’s orchestration is colourful. Genoveva and Seigfried have just married, but he’s going off to war. Glorious trumpet fanfares, woodwind and drums depict the excitement of battle. Alone, and isolated, Genoveva’s music is tender, heightening her confrontations with Golo and the baying mob. Later, when Drago’s ghost appears, Schumann’s dark, gloomy textures would have evoked, to his audience, the Wolf Glen scene in Weber’s Der Freischütz.
There’s plenty of incident in this narrative - a rape, mob violence, murder and of course the ghost and the witch. The sharpness of the German original is muted in English. Although the translation is by David Pountney, it’s clumsy and doesn’t adapt well to the musical line. However, it’s unrealistic to expect a largely student cast to sing idiomatically in a foreign language, and audiences might justifiably complain if they don’t know the libretto.
Perhaps, too, the drama might have been much more pointed if the set wasn’t quite so self-consciously medieval. Although the story is supposed to happen at the time of Charlemagne, Schumann (and Hebbel) quite explicitly understood the setting as allegory for universal concepts. Yet again, though, it’s asking too much of a production like this to be too ambitious. Audiences who don’t know the opera need to be guided into it gently.
What was good about the direction (Emma Rivlin) was that it didn’t gloss over the violence. The rape scene is graphic. Drago is beaten to death by the mob, whipped into frenzy by Golo’s accusations. Later Balthasar and Caspar (Simon Hall and Dan Hawkins) take yobbish delight in humiliating Genoveva. The fight scenes were well choreographed.
Unlike most student companies, UCL Opera employs professionals in key roles. In Genoveva, this makes a difference as Schumann writes the parts using the full range of each voice type. The duets and trios are so well written that the voices are clearly differentiated. Bibi Heal and Richard Rowe as Genoveva and Golo, acquitted themselves well.
Adam Green’s Seigfried was unusually impressive. He’s a natural actor, who brings depth and credibility to the part. Green’s Seigfried is sexy and charismatic. You can understand why Genoveva will suffer so much for his sake. It’s more than conventional loyalty. Also impressive was Lynton Black as Drago, the servant who is murdered as a scapegoat. When he reappears as a ghost he frightens Golo’s fellow plotter Margarethe (Magdalen Ashman) so much that she tells Siegfried the truth.
Perhaps the Bloomsbury Theatre is on the small side for an opera like this, with fairly large chorus and orchestra, at times overwhelming the voices. Yet again, that’s not really a fault. It is much more important that performers are enthusiastic and energetic, and enter into the spirit of the music. Genoveva is raw drama, after all, and a few ragged edges are a small price to pay when performances are as committed as this. That, ultimately, is the point of UCL Opera, to raise new generations to learn and care about operas that are off the beaten track.