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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.
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.
19 Apr 2010
Christoph Prégardien, London
‘Come sweet death … for I am weary of the world’: thus,
the opening lines of Bach’s aria, ‘Komm Süßer Tod’, from the
Schemelli Liederbuch, led us into the realms of the afterlife, and
encapsulated the central sentiment of this evening of songs meditating on, and
calling for, release from toilsome human cares.
In the programme notes, Christoph Prégardien calls for a more realistic and
trusting attitude towards death: “Today death has been pushed out of our
life almost completely … this is the reason we have compiled our
programme: so that people become a little more aware that death is always in
our midst. That we cannot ignore it, but have to accept it.” If one
feared that this programme — comprising a striking variety of styles and
attitudes — ranging from the baroque certainties of Bach to the dark
dreaming of the Romantics, from the hinteryears’ resignation of Brahms
and Mahler to the existential Gothic terrors of Loewe and Weber — would
be a melancholy and bleak affair, such concerns were allayed by Prégardien and
his pianist, Michael Gees, for their commitment, consistency and composure
throughout this recital was in itself consoling and reassuring. Through this
meticulously constructed sequence of lyric songs, narrative ballads and
operatic melodramas which ensued, the performers (who have spent two years
selecting the songs which best portray man’s ‘quest for the
infinite’) offered a unified and supremely controlled exploration of
contrasting psychologies, situations and dramas of human existence.
Prégardien immediately established a mood of confident certainty in
Bach’s aforementioned aria; his total control of line and nuance,
complemented by a warm, secure tone, perfectly conveying the unshakeable
convictions of the baroque age. The veiled quality of the second verse,
delicately ornamented by the piano, suggested the composer’s awe and love
in the face of the majesty of heaven; indeed, one of Prégardien’s most
absorbing qualities is the gentle warmth of his pianissimo utterances
— in particular, his tender but tangible mezza voce—which never stray
into affectation or whimsy.
The Romantics had a very different relationship with death: and following
such certainty of salvation came spiritual transcendence, in the form of
Mahler’s ‘Urlicht’ (‘Primordial Light’) from
Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and symbolised by the quiet clarity of
Prégardien’s pianissimo floating octave arcs which suggest the
desire for heavenly rest, where God ‘will light my way to eternal blessed
For the wanderers who populate the songs of Schumann and Schubert, death is
often not a welcome meeting with one’s God, but rather a blessed release
from the unrequited torments of earthly love. Schubert’s
‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Swan Song’) allowed us to appreciate
the rich baritonal range of Prégardien’s voice, while
‘Auflösung’ (‘Dissolution’) offered Gees the
opportunity to explore turbulent realms in disturbing, deep arpeggio sweeps,
underpinning the earnest colourings in the vocal line with which the tenor
emphasised the ‘fires of rapture’ and bitter disappointment of the
protagonist. ‘Stirb, Lieb’ und Freud’!’ (‘Die,
love and joy!’) by Robert Schumann, tells of a young man’s anguish
as his loved one chooses the hand of Christ over his own mortal hand; here
Prégardien and Gees impressively inhabited the speaker’s spirit: the
flowing regularity of the accompaniment disrupted by surprising modulations;
the destruction of dreams conveyed by poignant contrasts between upper and
lower registers; rubatos and syncopations revealing the painful yearning and
despair of the speaker.
In contrast, Brahms’s ‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (‘Alone in
the Fields’) presents a more soothing acceptance of human mortality.
However, the same composer’s’ ‘Wie rafft ich mich auf in der
Nacht’ (‘How I leapt up in the night’) reminds us that such
tranquillity is the preserve of those who are unburdened by guilt — and
here the piano and voice were true partners in the drama, for although
Prégardien tenderly reassured us with a vision of the white clouds serenely
passing across the ‘deep blue, like lovely silent dreams’
(‘Durchs tiefe Blau, wie schöne stille Träume’), Gees’s
between-verse paraphrases powerfully conveyed the torment of the troubled soul.
The enlarged dramatic canvas in this song initiated a passionate sequence which
closed the first half, in which the sheer terror and ‘nothingness’
present in Loewe’s ‘Edward’ and Max’s recitative and
aria from Weber’s Der Freischütz, which followed on without a
breath, brutally swept aside the certitudes of salvation with which we had
begun. Gees relished the challenge of capturing the orchestral sound-scape,
producing a kaleidoscope of textures and timbres; and while Prégardien
powerfully conveyed the tense anger of the protagonists, the more focused
context, and his own intense concentrated delivery, prevented these Gothic
dramas from straying into melodrama or bombast.
In the second half of the recital the figure of Death itself stepped onto
the stage, summoned perhaps by the piano’s tolling invitation in the
introduction to Hugo Wolf’s ‘Denk es, I Seele!’ (‘O
soul, remember!). At first, all was calm and reassuring; Gees describes
Wolf’s setting of Goethe, ‘Anakreon’s Grab’
(‘Anacreon’s Grave’) as ‘the heavy made light, in the
simplicity of a serenade’ — and indeed, his gentle piano postlude
echoed the touching sweetness of Prégardien’s evocation of the
‘turtle-dove calls, where the cricket rejoices’. Similarly, in
‘Der Jüngling under der Tod’ (‘The youth and death’)
and ‘Das Tod und das Mädchen’ (‘Death and the Maiden’),
Schubert envisages Death as an authoritative but gentle presence; but here the
deep baritonal monotone of Prégardien’s enticement, ‘Give me your
hand, you lovely, tender creature’’ inferred the ominous gravity of
the invitation, and perhaps suggested the repressed violence which was abruptly
released in Loewe’s ‘Erlkönig’ (‘The Erlking’).
In Loewe’s dark, disturbing song, the performers enacted a truly Gothic
visitation by a malevolent force which snatches life from its powerless victim:
the final lines, describing the swift homeward journey of a bereaved father,
his child ‘dead in his arms’, were simultaneously emotively nuanced
in detail and chillingly dispassionate in stance.
Another dramatic triptych closed the second half. An impassioned rendering
of Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin was followed by
Schubert’s ‘Kreiger’s Ahnung’ (‘Warrior’s
foreboding’). The emotional tension of the latter was poignantly
revealed: for while the dead warrior yearns for the imagined comfort of his
lover’s arms—his earnest conviction ably conveyed by the deep
resonances of Prégardien’s lower range — Gees, hesitantly
manipulating the cadences, tellingly emphasising the final ponderous rhythms,
intimated the ambiguity which underlies the apparent certitudes of the
text’s conclusion. It was Mahler who was allotted the final word:
‘Revelge’ (‘Reveille’) from Des Knaben
Wunderhorn presents a desperate charge to an end which brings no
redemption, transcendence or consolation — in the words of Gees,
‘This is real death, when no one recognises you any more’.
Twenty-two visions of death might seem a dispiriting and emotionally
exhausting concept. But the masterful control of pace and mood, colour and
nuance exhibited here by Prégardien and Gees, made this an evening to rejoice
in human creativity and artistry, not to despair at its transience.