Recently in Reviews
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
05 Mar 2010
Matthias Goerne at Wigmore Hall, London
In this, the first of two recitals with pianist Helmut Deutsch, baritone Matthias Goerne continued his very personal journey through the landscape of Schubert’s lieder, a passage which is currently being preserved on an outstanding series of discs by Harmonia Mundi.
The paths on this occasion carried him largely to sombre, meditative places, the domains being defined by a series of mainly minor poets - friends and acquaintances of the composer, and with whom he performed, conversed and relaxed in the Viennese salons of the 1820s.
‘Der Jüngling und der Tod’ (‘The youth and death’), with a text by Schubert’s early champion, Josef von Spaun, opened the recital, firmly establishing the literary and emotional tone; for here, Youth cries out for the ‘calm embrace’ of Death, yearning to be led to ‘dreamed-of’ lands far from the torments of life. Deutsch’s dramatically dark piano postlude presented a stark contrast with the subsequent gentle grace of the strophic ‘Das Lied im Grünen’ (‘Songs in the open air’); but despite the apparent sense of ease, a tremulous disquiet troubled the surface as the speaker looks ahead to the days when life is ‘no longer green’.
Songs by Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis followed. The introspective text of ‘Die Herbstnacht’ (‘Autumn night’) allowed Goerne to settle into the seamless, legato stream of sound - seductively sustained, yet coloured by delicate emotive shadings - for which he is revered. Indeed, the understated melancholy and brooding might have become a little too pervasive, particularly given the performers’ propensity for performing the songs with scarcely a break, and the more agitated contours and sentiments of ‘An mein Herz’ provided a welcome contrast.
Despite the attempts of Richard Stokes, in the programme notes, to bolster the merits of these lesser lights of German Romantic verse (“If Schubert composed some 150 songs to the minor verse of his friends and acquaintances, that does not imply a lack of literary awareness, but rather a gift of friendship”), it was a setting of Friedrich von Schlegel, ‘The Wanderer’, which proved to be the highlight of the first half. Deutsch’s aural impression of the ‘moon’s light’ perfectly captured in rare harmonic nuance the silvery gleam; and, the more sophisticated relationship between voice and accompaniment drew an added depth from the performers - a seriousness which was sustained through the anonymous ‘Klage’ (‘Lament’) and Schober’s ‘Am Bach im Frühling’ (‘By the stream in spring’), where the sudden wanings of colour and weight in the voice revealed the omnipresence of death.
After the interval, Goerne and Deutsch seemed even more in harmony, embraced by a shared aesthetic vision. The second half began with upwardly curving ripples from the keyboard, signalling a rare moment of lightness. In ‘An die Laute’ (‘To the lute’) the serenading lover urges his instrument to be tender and soft - not to win his loved one’s heart, but rather so that the jealous neighbours are not disturbed. After settings of Freiherr von Schlechta and Johann Baptist Mayrhofer, it was again perhaps telling that it was the more stellar figures of Rückert and von Schober who had so obviously had inspired Schubert to expressive heights. The former’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’ (‘You are repose’) was exquisitely shaped, the second climax approached and wrought with remarkably controlled passion. In the concluding lines, Goerne created a quiet stillness of remarkable and touching delicacy. In contrast, the satisfyingly familiar ‘An die Musik’ revealed the darker colours in Goerne’s baritone range, and the dialogue between voice and piano left hand enabled Deutsch to enter into the conversation as both accompanist and equal.
The final two songs, ‘Abschied von der Harfe’(‘Farewell to the harp’) and ‘Liebesend’ (‘Song’s end’) lowered a sombre curtain on the evening’s proceedings. The performers offered no hint of consolation, Goerne sustaining the embedded melancholy until the dying strains, as ‘From a cold heart/ the magic of song now steals away,/ and ever closer step/ transience and the grave.’ As throughout the recital, there were no melodramatic gestures, no exaggerated mannerisms, just a heartfelt sincerity communicated by the most controlled and often understated musical means.
What was most striking about this recital was Goerne’s ability not only to present the material with consummate mastery, but also to convey a genuine sense of inhabiting the experience of these songs; to balance introspection with direct communication, all the while sustaining a mood of intimacy worthy of the Schubertiaden itself.