Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]
19 May 2010

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

At the Wigmore Hall, performers can chose daring repertoire, because audiences there are unusually receptive.

Schubert, Wolf, Zemlinsky and Ernst Krenek

Florian Boesch, baritone; Malcolm Martineau, piano. Wigmore Hall,

Above: Florian Boesch [Photo by Stefan von der Deken]


Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau presented Schubert and Hugo Wolf with Zemlinsky and Ernst Krenek.

Florian Boesch is very well regarded and a regular at the Wigmore Hall. Malcolm Martineau’s even more of a fixture, as his mother was page turner there years ago — his connections go back a long way. Together they are a draw you don’t miss, but this programme was something special.

Two versions of Goethe’s Prometheus, for example, Schubert D 674 from 1819 and Hugo Wolf, from1889. Both are naturally full of foreboding, for Prometheus defied the gods and was doomed to suffer for eternity. Yet both reflect the times in which they were written. Schubert’s version is powerful, but classically elegant. Wolf’s version could only have been written after Richard Wagner changed the way the world hears dramatic music. Wolf’s passionate outbursts sound almost demented, Boesch’s voice ringing with frenzy, Martineau pounding the keys in suppressed fury, less heavy on the pedal than he’d been in Schubert, but better for that.

Between the two versions of Prometheus, Boesch and Martineau pitted Schubert’s Gesange des Harfners songs (D 478, 480 and 479) with Wolf’s *Three Lieder to texts by Michelangelo *(1897). The latter are amongst the darkest pieces Wolf wrote, worlds away from the airy Mörike songs. Relatively few singers excel in them, for conversely, they need a certain lightness of touch to heighten the shadows. Boesch doesn’t have quite the same richness of colour Goerne can bring to these songs, but he’s reasonably flexible. The phrase, “Alles endet, was entstehet” was quietly sung, with delicacy.

Pairing Alexander Zemlinsky with Ernst Krenek was interesting, too. Zemlinsky composed a great many Lieder, and indeed may have polished Alma Mahler’s Lieder with her. His songs,though, don’t generally reach the imaginative heights of The Lyric Symphony. Die schlanke Wasserlilie, In der Ferne and Wand’l ich in dem Wald des Abends are among the best known. Had Boesch and Martineau paired Zemlinsky’s *Waldegesprache *with the version by Robert Schumann, the difference would have been telling. Few performances make Zemlinsky’s songs much more than pleasant, but it’s not necessarily for lack of trying.

The highlight of the evening were seven songs from Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen op 62 (1929). This is a remarkable cycle of 20 songs, a seminal work of the 20th century. Krenek’s opera Jonny Spielt Auf was notoriously modern, featuring jazz tunes and a black saxophonist: definitely “degenerate music” which horrified many at the time, including Julius Korngold, the arch-conservative critic.

Austria was now no longer a colourful polyglot Empire, but a truncated rump of German speakers, who weren’t German. This identity crisis was further compounded by modern change, new technology and new values. Thus Krenek left Vienna for the Alps, to find, if he could, the Austrian soul. “Ich reise aus, meine Heimat zu entdecken”. Throughout the cycle, there are references to “Technik Sklaven” (slaves to technology) to hardship, vulgar capitalism, dirty politics and the evils of war.

Krenek coats his songs with sarcasm, for the cycle is a savage indictment of modern society. Alpenbewohner, for example refers to “wilden Nomaden”, ie German daytrippers who tear around rural Austria on their motorbikes, drunkenly offending the locals. But the locals are poor, they need the income tourists bring and are powerless to resist. Krenek didn’t know, in 1929, how prophetic his observations would prove.

The final song, Epilog, is relatively upbeat. Krenek sees an old saying carved on a sign above a door, a very Austrian touch. We may not know when or how our lives may end but somehow we’re happy, it suggests. Krenek seems to conclude that change is inevitable, and must be faced, but doesn’t necessarily preclude happiness.

On their own, the seven songs from the cycle don’t really convey the full impact of the full Reisebuch, though they have been produced as a group in the past. Boesch and Martineau performed them very well, but it would have helped greatly if the programme notes had been up to the usual high standards one expects from the Wigmore Hall.

Anne Ozorio

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):