Recently in Performances
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
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.
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.
20 May 2010
La Fille du régiment, Royal Opera
Expectations were running high for the opening night of Elaine Kidd’s
revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s mad-cap romp,
La Fille du regiment — almost as high as Tonio’s infamous
First staged to glorious reviews in 2007, in fact this co-production
with the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, has seldom
been ‘out-of-production’ during the last two years; but Covent
Garden has reassembled almost all the members of the original stellar cast,
re-uniting French soprano, Natalie Dessay, as the gamine, gambolling Marie,
with Juan Diego Flórez’ charming, heart-winning Tonio.
Even by the standards of 1840s opéra comique, the libretto is
wildly implausible. But Pelly relishes the improbabilities and excesses,
envisaging Donizetti’s trifle as a Gilbert & Sullivanesque caper; his
staging abounds with visual gags which inject much energy humour into the text,
which is itself enlivened by some smart one-liners (‘It’s raining
soldiers’) and a co-mingling of English and French which neatly
complements the franglais accents on stage. Certainly, the manic
visual stimuli — lines of dancing long-johns, balletic dusting routines,
a coup de théâtre tank - deftly keep at bay any potential dramatic
languors; but, while satire is undoubtedly a vital element of the
genre there is perhaps a danger that Pelly’s farce indulges in just a
touch too much self-ridicule — surely Donizetti is sincere in his
flippancy and frivolity?
As the regiment’s adopted daughter/skivvy, Natalie Dessay is certainly
committed: from her first entrance — stumbling beneath a toppling mound
of regimental laundry — she flounces and flops, stamps and strops, wildly
throwing herself around the stage in a ceaseless comic routine à la
Chaplin. Not afraid to squawk and screech, she savours the dialogue,
spitting out Gallic ‘Merde!’s a-plenty, and confirms her reputation
as one of the finest actors currently on the operatic stage. This is fast
becoming a signature role — and indeed it is hard to imagine this
production without Dessay — but there some alarming signs of
dramatic and vocal wear-and-tear. Her comic timing may be exemplary, with
coloratura pinging perfectly to a twang of the braces; and the top Ds and Es
may ring true and clear even as she is tossed and twirled by her military
‘daddies’; but the price to pay for such a breath-taking
performance may literally be the taking of Dessay’s breath. On more than
one occasion she seemed exhausted by her own exuberance and, worryingly, in
quieter moments her voice became rather pale, on occasion fading completely.
Punching out the regimental song as she darted up and down the map-inscribed
mountains of Chantal Thomas’s Act 1 set, Dessay effectively captured the
drive and ambition of the military milieu, but if familiarity breeds excess and
exaggeration, there is a danger that her performance could become a caricature
If Dessay never quite attained a true bel canto lyricism, Juan Diego
Flórez’ light, high tenor is perfect for this part. Nonchalant leaps to
the 9 successive high Cs in ‘Ah, mes amis’ were more than matched,
even outshone, by a moving, tender declaration of love in his Act 2 aria,
‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. Although the voice is a little
unyielding, the homogenous, even beauty of tone is astonishing, and it was hard
to believe that the sweet, tenderness of the daringly hushed closing phrase
could fail to touch the heart of the daughter-denying Marquise de
Dawn French as La Duchesse De Crackentorp and Ann Murray as La Marquise De Berkenfeld
For all Pelly’s attention to dramatic detail, there was however a
disappointing absence of genuine ‘chemistry’ between the star pair.
Fortunately, Ann Murray’s self-important Marquise and Alessandro
Corbelli’s soft-hearted Sulpice more than made up for this lack of erotic
spark, with masterly embodiments of haughty elegance and paternal indulgence
respectively. Her voice may lack some of its former sheen, but Murray knows how
to command a stage and her entrance aria, 'Pour une femme de mon nom', was
instantly engaging and convincing. Amusingly accompanying Dessay at the piano
during the singing-lesson scene, she more than matched the master Corbelli for
Queen of TV comedy, Dawn French, in the speaking role of the Duchess de
Crackentorp, reprised her Vicar of Dibley trademarks, eliciting laughs by the
mere raising of the eyebrow and stopping just a whisker short of overkill.
Donald Maxwell as Hortensius completed the ‘dream cast’. They were
complemented by a superb male chorus, although their female counterparts,
admittedly less busy, were not quite up to the rest of the regiment’s
Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice Pingot
Bruno Campanella conducted a rather scruffy performance from the Royal Opera
House orchestra: although the pit-stage balance was excellent, the tempi were a
bit ragged, and cast and band were occasionally out-of-step. However, things
tightened up in the second Act, and a stunning solo ’cello introduced
Dessay’s ‘C’en est donc fait’.
Florez’ light elegance shows no signs of waning, but Dessay can surely
not reprise this role indefinitely. Although her Marie is at times less
hyperactive tomboy and more hysterical Lucia, this is not a show to miss. Grab
a ticket — even if you have to mount a military campaign to hunt one