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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
01 Jun 2010
Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall
One very tall and gaunt,one short and stocky, one introspective, one effusive : Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano, Music Director of the Royal Opera house make an odd couple, but they've partnered each other musically for many years. It's a good relationship, as this recital at the Wigmore Hall demonstrated.
The heart of the programme was Schwanengesang, D957 (1828) which Bostridge and Pappano recorded in 2009. For this recital, they chose only three extra songs (different from those on the CD), which made for a short evening. We exited the Wigmore Hall while it was still twilight. Whether this was planned or not,it was appropriate. The songs in Schwanengesang were written in Schubert’s own twilight. They were collected and titled posthumously.
All music, almost by definition, is dramatic, but there are many forms of drama. Lieder is quiet and introspective, “inner” drama. where truth comes from other than voice depth matters. That’s why I have so much respect for Ian Bostridge. Lieder is an intellectual genre, and he’s unusually sensitive to meaning. There’s nothing safe or bland about his singing, but Lieder isn’t bland or safe.
Bostridge performances can be unpredictable. Sometimes he holds back emotionally, which is understandable, but when he ignites, he can be amazing. In this performance, he seemed more relaxed than usual, which was an interesting compromise. Pappano has a stabilizing influence which can pay dividends as their recording of Hugo Wolf songs shows. Bostridge thrives when he has a supportive pianist, but sometimes his finest work comes when the support pushes him creatively.
Widerschein D949 began with a flourish, Bostridge creating a soaring arc on the phrase “Die Geliebte säumt”,but became more restrained after that first outburst. In Winterabend D938, heavy snow muffles the sounds of the busy world outside, but the poet has internalized the relentless snowfall. “Sinne, und sinne”. Pappano’s playing caught the muffle well, but the danger is that the mood can turn soporific.
This muted spirit carried over through Die Sterne D939 and into the first few songs of Schwanengesang. Understatement can work well with Schubert, even in Kreiger’s Ahnung, where the images are of battle, but the message is of rest, possibly eternal.
Nonetheless, there are other moods in this collection. For Ständchen, Bostridge quickened the pace, because the poet is quivering with anticipation that his lover might appear. Chances are that Schubert knew, and Rellstab knew, that she won’t show. In Lieder, love is usually unrequited.
The Heine Settings provide sterner material. In Der Atlas, Bostridge’s voice broke out of repose, taking on a harder, more violent edge, which fits the song, and made a nice change from the refinement that had gone before. In contrast, Der Fischermädchen was deliciously free, Bostridge making clear the erotic mischief in the last stanza.
By this stage, the contemplation in Schwanengesang starts to darken, eerily. Bostridge was now much more in his element. The strange, clarinet-like quality of his voice is ideally suited to evocations of the surreal. Die Stadt and An Meer felt mysterious, as they should be. Heine doesn’t do landscape for its own sake. In Der Doppelgänger, Bostridge used the extreme dynamic range to heighten the sense of mounting horror. No peaceful contemplation here. He spat the words out, emphatically. “Du, Doppelgänger! du bleicher Geselle!” No need to build beauty or softness. It’s a song of violent accusation. Bostridge’s lips curled, horrified loathing etched in his features.