Recently in Performances
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.
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
12 May 2010
La traviata in May, Royal Opera House, London
Richard Eyre’s production of La traviata is so beautiful that it can be watched repeatedly, yet still yield pleasure. But appearances, however splendid, aren’t quite enough to make a completely satisfying evening.
For a great many in the audience at the Royal Opera House on this occasion, it probably didn’t matter. Opera going is a great experience and La traviata is great theatre. I’ve never seen so many cameras popping, or people texting on their mobiles, even during the performance. Routine applause, for the sake of applause, deserved or not, inhibiting the flow of the drama. Opera has always been a social experience. Now it’s audience participation.
On the other hand, this performance was less than gripping musically. Since 1994, some of the greatest singers of our time have graced this production. Last year’s revival, with Renée Fleming, Joseph Calleja and Thomas Hampson, was magnificent. Courageous as they are, this year’s cast, with some exceptions, cannot help but seem eclipsed in comparison.
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Giorgio Germont
Perhaps it was first night syndrome that the First Act didn’t quite ignite — even the “champagne corks” didn’t pop as brightly as they might. The Royal Opera House chorus, usually one of the best in the business, sounded curiously unfestive, though later they redeemed themselves in the tightly executed scene at the gambling party at Flora’s House. Brisk, well-paced interplay between singers and dancers. The gypsies and matadors embody the life-force that’s ebbing away from Violetta. The shadows of the Carnival that loom over her deathbed are a poignant reminder of what might have been.
The Royal Opera House Orchestra is very good too, so Yves Abel was able to get strong playing. Indeed, some individual soloists were so good that they drew attention away from the singing. Abel seems to have a feel for the flow in longer instrumental passages, so it will be interesting to hear him conduct La traviata again in July.
Ermonela Jaho covered as Violetta for Anna Netrebko in 2008. She’s charming, but Violetta is a strong, complex role. She’s the kind of woman who can drive men to fight duels, yet has the nobility of character to impress Germont. Jabo sings pleasantly, and looks good, but needs greater depth.
Dimitri Hvorostovsky’s Germont has vocal authority, honed through experience in the role. Yet, when he sings “Pura siccome un angelo”, his timbre softens and glows. In “Di Provenza il mar”, Hvorostovsky captures the lilting melody so cannily that he creates the impression of a distant, happier world far removed from Parisian artifice. .Hvorostovsky fills the role, not just the costume. His Germont is a fully realized personality, more interesting, perhaps, than his son. Hvorostovsky’s “Dove’e’ mio figlio?” makes the confrontation feel intensely profound, his voice colouring expressively.
Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo Germont and Ermonela Jaho as Violetta Valéry
Alfredo is a big part for a singer still under 30, so if Saimir Pingu impresses with youthful freshness, that’s no demerit. He has a future ahead of him. Robert Lloyd, as Dr Grenvil, has an illustrious past, but remains in excellent form at 70. Subsidiary roles were well cast, many of whom will also appear in the July series, with Angela Gheorghiu, James Valenti and Zeljko Lucic as principals.