Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
23 Apr 2010
Christopher Maltman, Wigmore Hall, London
The abiding elegance and beauty of Christopher Maltman’s baritone,
complemented by the interpretative wisdom and experience of Graham Johnson, one
of the finest vocal accompanists of recent times, made this an evening of
assured musicianship and expressive poise.
The fourteen songs which comprise Schwanengesang (‘Swan
Song’) were composed by Schubert in the year of his death, 1828. They do
not form a unified sequence: there is no continuous narrative or singular mood.
But, that is in many ways the strength of the ‘cycle’; for it is
the variety of emotions and situations, often juxtaposed in surprising
sequences, which accounts for the unsettling power of these lieder,
many of which are themselves characterised by striking inner contrasts. Dark
despair is followed by hesitant optimism; cynical irony by tentative hope.
Maltman and Johnson did not always distinguish the full range of subtle
emotional tones and shades contained herein, but their control of form —
crafted melodic lines, flexible rhythms and well-judged tempi - coupled with
impressive technical assurance, more than compensated for an occasionally
limited dramatic palette. Opting principally for either a veiled, hesitant
pianissimo or a bitter angry forte, Maltman’s reading
of these songs was one of disquiet and despair.
Maltman’s tone is particularly beautiful in the upper ranges, and his
focused, sweet lyricism was immediately evident in the opening song,
‘Liebesbotschaft’ (‘Love’s message’). Words were
breathed rather than intoned, vigour and passion reserved for a sudden surge of
emotion as the protagonist recollects the ‘crimson glow’ of the
beloved’s roses. The baritone’s large range was immediately
revealed in the following song, an authoritative reading of ‘Kriegers
Ahnung’ (Warrior’s Foreboding’), where Maltman plumbed rich
vocal depths to convey the horror of the death-laden battlefield.
Johnson’s appreciation of musical drama was also revealed: the flowing
ardour of the rippling brook of the opening song was here replaced by a tense,
sprung, rhythmic dynamism, subtle rubati and acceleration highlighting
the modulations between major and minor tonality which enhance the poignant and
ironic contrast between celebrations of earthly love and recognition of
Similar masterly control of pace was evident in ‘Frühlings
Sehnsucht’ (‘Spring Longing’), where the stanzas’
culminating questions - ‘But where?’, ‘But why?’ -
unsettled the calm assurance of the preceding romantic visions of the natural
world. A highlight of the Rellstab settings which form the first half of the
sequence was ‘In der Ferne’ (‘Far away’), where the
piano’s haunting introduction and subsequent echoes of the vocal line
suggested an isolation and alienation which cannot be alleviated by the
poem’s somewhat convention romantic imagery. ‘Abschied’ ends
the Rellstab sequence, a surprisingly light-hearted ‘farewell’ to
the protagonist’s home town as he sets out on his quest; the emotive
inferences of Johnson’s between-verse phrases and, once again, the
contrast of major and minor modes, undermined the spirit of optimism and
prepared for the subsequent Heine settings, with their greater psychological
complexity and unease.
In ‘Der Atlas’ (Atlas) the lonely bitterness of rejection was
forcefully conveyed by the imposing strength of Maltman’s tone, laden
with massive despair, and the frustrated undercurrents in the piano’s
introduction and postlude. After such turbulence, ‘Ihr Bild’
(‘Her likeness’) presented a contrasting moment of oppressive
stillness, although melancholy and loss remained paramount: sparse unison
textures evoked the poet-speaker’s self-tormenting ‘dark
dreams’, oscillating with the warm richer harmonies as the
‘wonderful smile played about her lips’. Such consolation was
however tinged with woe and proved transient. Here Maltman’s control of
the text was superb: the words floated into the ether, revealing the fragility
of his hopes and visions. The light, barcarolle-like ‘Das
Fischermädchen’ (The fishermaiden’) offered only a short-lived
respite before the gothic hallucinations of ‘Die Stadt’ (‘The
town’) and the sorrowful seascape of ‘Am Meer’ (‘By the
sea’) engulfed us once again. Most impressive in these bleak,
through-composed dramas was Maltman’s alertness to Schubert’s power
of suggestion, and the performers’ recognition of an inferred narrative
in Heine’s sequence; for instance, the harmonic progression which
connects the bare low C at the close of ‘Die Stadt’ to the harmonic
transition at the start of ‘Am Meer’ was skilfully controlled. The
‘narrative’ culminates in the extraordinary, harrowing song,
‘Der Doppelgänger’ where Johnson’s ominous repeating bass
line and startling modulations provided an eerie bed for Maltman’s
agonized free declamations, as the poet-speaker is forced to face the
embodiment of his own misery and anguish.
The light-weight joviality of Seidl’s ‘Taubenpost’
(‘Pigeon-Post’), appended to the sequence by Schubert’s
Viennese publisher, the enterprising Tobias Haslinger, makes for an odd
conclusion; perhaps it was intended to provide symmetry — seven songs in
each ‘half’ — or to alleviate the distress of the despairing
‘Doppelgängeer’, much as ‘Abschied’ (with which it
shares rhythmic motifs and mood) lightened the distant shadows of ‘In der
Ferne’? Whatever the reason for its placement, Maltman found scant
genuine cheer and consolation in ‘Taubenpost’: clear in diction,
sweet in tone, but emotionally reticent, Maltman’s light baritone
suggested the insubstantiality of the protagonist’s certainty and
Maltman’s intelligent performance was technically immaculate. Striving
for extreme, unsettling contrasts, perhaps he and Johnson did not always
capture the full range of emotional nuance; but this was a masterly and