Recently in Reviews
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.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
28 Mar 2010
A Composer Grows before his Work — The Grapes of Wrath at Carnegie Hall
Many congratulations and thanks are in order to the Collegiate Chorale for
bringing Ricky Ian Gordon’s adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath to New York audiences this week.
However, while the evening at Carnegie Hall was more
theatrically compelling than most semi-staged performances, the compromise of
shortening the three-act opera into two acts of music-theatre with a crossover
cast seemed better intended than it was actually effective. Firstly, by
replacing the connective recitative with narration from novel (read by Jane
Fonda), Gordon’s musical diction was made less effective and, moreover,
Michael Korie’s rhyming libretto suffered in comparison to John
Steinbeck’s original prose. Secondly, changing the theatrical structure
of the evening necessarily altered the musical architecture. Reoccurring
motives effectively became musical theatre reprisals rather than the thematic
development post-Wagnerian opera audiences expect. At its best,
Gordon’s score evoked Ragtime more than Porgy and Bess.
The crossover casting, made possible by across the board sound enhancement,
was inspired in some instances but minimized the vocal demands on the singers
and did little to establish The Grapes of Wrath as an equivalent to the great
American novel. Christine Ebersole was in character from the moment she stepped
onto the stage, much more so than most of her counterparts from the world of
opera and concert repertoire. That said, while her brief appearance as the
waitress Mae should be lauded for the character arc created in a single scene,
Ebersole’s vocalism on Monday evening would be considered lacking on
either the Broadway or the operatic stage. Victoria Clark and Steven Pasquale,
both from the original cast of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza,
fared better. As Ma Joad, it was Clark, rather than headliner Nathan Gunn, who
proved to be the both the musical and dramatic lynchpin of the evening.
Pasquale used Al Joad’s short second act aria “Hooverville”
as an opportunity for cynical showboating à la Gershwin’s Sportin’
Among the opera singers in the cast, Gunn had the easiest singing and, not
coincidentally, the most fun with his musical material. His duet with Sean
Panikkar (stepping in for Anthony Dean Griffey as the preacher Jim Casy)
featured the evening’s most exciting vocalism. Moreover, Panikkar dealt
with the Jiminy Cricket text of his aria “Things Turn Around” with
considerable style and dignity. It was unfortunate to hear such a fine
singer’s phrasing and coloring flattened by the so-called acoustic
In order to elide three acts into two, Gordon and Korie had to cut much of
the musical and dramatic exposition and development. Therefore, the aria
establishing Jim Casy’s character was actually his swan song. This was
also the case with Andrew Wilkowske in the role of Noah. Perfectly cast,
Wilkowske carried off the evening’s most challenging scene with sweet
singing, sensitive acting, and overall aplomb. As Uncle John, Stephen
Powell’s performance was fully realized both dramatically and vocally.
Within the ensemble cast, Matthew Worth played three parts, but should be
especially commended for his turn as the Ragged Man.
Nathan Gunn and Victoria Clark
Costuming by Jacob Climer and projections by Wendall K. Harrington helped to
actualize the opera’s considerable theatrical potential. Inexplicably,
though, Elizabeth Futral showed no visible signs of pregnancy as Rosasharn.
Some of the projections, a mix of black-and-white period footage and color
representations of Dust Bowl meteorological phenomena, were more literal than
evocative (as in the case of the burning crops during the riot at Hooper
Ranch). The evening’s rather abrupt ending, in particular, could have
been made more poignant with different projections and lighting. Perhaps this
was due to the limitations of the concert stage – a full orchestra of
music stand lights took away from the poetry of Rosasharn’s “one
star” in the night sky as a beacon of American hope – or, more
likely, the rushed feeling of condensing a five hours of original music into
In either case, as an evening of music-theatre Gordon’s The Grapes of
Wrath shows promise. Since its original production at the Minnesota Opera in
2007, members of the original team, including director Eric Simonson, have
overseen the subsequent productions at Utah Opera and Pittsburgh Opera as well
as this week’s performance at Carnegie Hall. If new creative teams can
work with the material as effectively as singers like Andrew Wilkowske, Sean
Panikkar, and Stephen Powell have assimilated their roles, then audiences have
something to look forward to.
Clearly, Gordon and Korie are open to the idea of re-tooling their opera in
order to make it more viable for today’s opera houses and audiences. It
would be interesting to see if, rather than featuring a large orchestra and
expanding the use of the chorus, the opera could be centered around a core
ensemble cast à la John Corigliano’s recent reconfiguration of The Ghosts
of Versailles. After all, the difference between a novel and a musical score as
a source document is that as a book stands the test of time it eventually
becomes a definitive example of something specific within its literary canon.
In order for an opera to become part of the standard repertoire, the score and
libretto need to inspire many different interpretations so that multiple
successful productions may be mounted. The Collegiate Chorale’s concert
version of The Grapes of Wrath should definitely be considered a success and a
step towards establishing both the composer and the work within the American