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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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
07 Jun 2010
Seeing Tosca at the Coliseum brings back happy memories, as it was a
performance of Tosca (in a revival of the Keith Warner production in the 1990s) which occasioned my very first trip to the ENO. That also happens to have been
the first time I ever saw Tosca.
Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The first time I came across Tosca was
five years earlier, in my early teens and long before I became really
interested in opera, when I was nonetheless gripped by the live international
TV broadcast from the authentic locations in Rome. That film’s star, Catherine
Malfitano, moved into opera direction herself six years ago, and it is she who
has been charged with ENO’s latest new staging.
The result is a competent, dramatically coherent and (how often these days
can one say this about a recent ENO staging of a repertoire standard?)
eminently revivable production. Above all, it stands out for the believability
of the characters — I can’t remember ever having seen such a natural,
genuine and un-stagey Act 1 love scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi, nor a
Scarpia who so successfully avoided villainous caricature.
The Act 1 set design gives a modern twist on a naturalistic setting, with a
slightly abstract, pixellated version of what is very definitely a depiction of
the actual interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle, particularly during the Te Deum
when a shift in the lighting results in the basilica’s characteristic shafts of
pale yellow light beaming down from the high windows. This coup-de-theatre by
lighting designer David Martin Jacques is one of many touches throughout the
opera which keep the production feeling true to its location, another being the
decision to leave both the Act 2 Cantata and the Shepherd Boy’s solo in the
The Act 2 staging is entirely straightforward, until the last few seconds
where a projection of an expanse of infinite star-filled space appears on the
back wall, a symbol of the simultaneous liberty and wilderness into which Tosca
moves following Scarpia’s murder. After that, Act 3 has a more abstract feel,
retaining the star-studded backdrop from the end of Act 2, with a striking
curved set which looked somewhat as though a ‘realistic’ recreation of the
uppermost reaches of the Castel Sant-Angelo had been tipped backwards through
ninety degrees. This for me was the one jarring note, principally because of
the considerable resultant visual resemblance to Act 2 of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s
Tristan und Isolde for Glyndebourne — I couldn’t help feeling that I
was watching the wrong opera, and that the music and visuals didn’t match. I
half-expected Tosca to make her final exit in the manner of Isolde in that
production, drifting off into space.
The title role was taken by the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz.
Although a substantial instrument — which I have previously showcased to
thrilling effect elsewhere, including in this very role with Opera Holland Park
— it rarely manages to dominate volume-wise above heavy Puccini
orchestration in a house the size of the Coliseum. Nonetheless it is a
beautifully-coloured, smooth and classy, and she brings the character to
vivacious and passionate life.
Her Cavaradossi was Julian Gavin — a phrase which gives me a certain
sense of deja vu, as I have now heard him in three different ENO productions of
the same opera. It is to his great credit that almost fourteen years after the
first time, he retains the vocal intensity and physical vigour of youth, but
now brings added value to the role with the more baritonal colours of his
increased vocal maturity. The spinto character of his upper voice made the big
moments thrilling, particularly ‘Vittoria!’, Cavaradossi’s political
ardour winning over his romantic ardour.
Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Scarpia was a good vocal match for Echalaz, perhaps
not quite as firmly in his element as in his recent memorable Rigoletto here
but a dangerous, vocally alluring snake in the grass. I suspect that like his
tenor colleague, Mr Michaels-Moore has sung multiple English versions of this
opera — one of the disadvantages of ENO’s use of surtitles is that it
highlights when the words sung do not match those which were supposed to be
sung, and there were a couple of such glitches.
The smaller roles were strongly assumed — Pauls Putninš was a
dramatically-compelling Angelotti despite a shortage of a vocal ‘edge’ to lend
urgency to his delivery, while ENO Young Singers Christopher Turner (Spoletta)
and James Gower (Sciarrone) were both eloquent and incisive.
On behalf of all singers-in-English, I grieve for ENO’s obsession with using
a different translation for every new staging. That sort of thing is inclined
to mess with singers’ minds. Considering that Puccini doesn’t tend to translate
well into English, the Amanda Holden translation used in David McVicar’s 2002
production was really quite respectable, bringing a natural rhythm to the text
within the tight constraints of the musical line. So why now revert to an
ancient and rather ungainly translation by the late Edmund Tracey? I hope other
English-language companies pick up on Holden’s translation so it doesn’t now
Under Ed Gardner, the orchestral sound was full of life and colour, with
special mention due to the vicious snarls of the trumpet in the torture scene.
The cello quartet just before ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was beautifully played
— when I saw the last production I vividly remember the passage being a
disaster, and it sounded so utterly different this time round that I had to
compare the orchestra lists in the two programmes. It would appear to have been
exactly the same cellists now as then, which underlines yet again the extent of
the good that Gardner’s directorship has done this band. Musically, this
performance is a triumph.
Ruth Elleson, May 2010