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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.

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.

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center
15 Aug 2010

Michael Christie conducts Corigliano in Aspen

Michael Christie, now 34, was too young to see John Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles when it was new at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991.

John Corigliano: Ghosts of Versailles

Above: Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center


Yet he was the obvious choice to conduct the world premiere of the revised version of the work at St. Louis Opera Theater in 2009.

“To celebrate John’s 70th birthday I had done a Corigliano festival with the Brooklyn Philharmonic,” says Christie, who then took James Robinson’s St. Louis production to Ireland to open the new opera house at Wexford. “I had worked with him; I knew his style and I knew his sounds. “Conducting Ghosts was a natural next step.”

This week Christie is on the podium for an all-new staging of the revised version by the Aspen Opera Theater Center, the music-theater wing of the Aspen Music Festival and School. “I’ve now lived with Ghosts for a year,” says the conductor, who has just wound up his 10th season as music director of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder. “I’m totally at home with the score.”

In addition to that, Christie loves it. “I’ve watched the video of the Met production,” he says. “It’s all about stars Teresa Stratas and Marilyn Horne. “Now John has really tidied things up and made a true opera of it.” Nonetheless, Christie will be working with 60 singers on stage and an orchestra so large that it spill over into the Green Room of Aspen’s historic, 500-seat Wheeler Opera House. (With supers, the Met had 300 on stage for the original production.)

Christie further feels that the revision — it was done by John David Earnest with input from Corigliano — refines the lines of the opera-within-an-opera. “It’s now two acts instead of three and half an hour shorter than the original,” he says. “It holds together much better.”

Central figure of the outer story is Marie Antoinette, who 200 years after she was beheaded in the French Revolution, wants to return to life. The story then moves back to 1793 and offers a hilarious picture of the Almaviva family, familiar to all from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Instead of re-writing the story Mozart’s librettist, Pierre Beaumarchais and the late Empress fall in love.

“Laughter threatens to drown out the music in Act One,” Christie says, “but then comes the love story, and the opera has a very serious side. “Much of it is breathtakingly beautiful!” Although it’s wrong to see the score as “Mozartian,” Mozart, he says, is everywhere in it.

In mid-summer Christie spent three days in Aspen rehearsing singers. “It’s a different ‘take’ on opera,” he says. “Corigliano’s vocabulary is very specific, yet he leaves the orchestra quite free — almost improvisational at times.” In Ghosts the orchestra, he explains, is at the service of what is on stage. It’s up to the conductor to keep the singers moving and to keep the orchestra with them. “It’s an usual role for a conductor,” he says. “If you’re used to being in charge, this opera is not for you.”

Christie focused on opera at the outset of his career, having served for three years as assistant to Franz Welser-Möst in Zurich. With Ghosts he returns to the pit with performances of Verdi’s Traviata and Wuthering Heights by Hollywood master Bernard Hermann at Minnesota Opera. In 2011 he returns to St. Louis to conduct John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer.

Edward Berkeley, his Juilliard mentor who has directed the Aspen Opera Center for three decades, has built the summer season around the figure of Figaro. Ghosts was preceded by Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. “Ghosts fits a festival well,” say Berkeley, who directs the production “and in this context it gives students a look at how different composers treat the same group of characters.” “It gives our audience a chance to compare how they have used the same material.” He calls Corigliano “very skilled.” “He’s taken these characters beyond Beaumarchais and added his own layer to the story,” he says. He is awed by the dimensions even of the revised score. “It’s an enormous work,” he says. “It may be the biggest thing we’ve ever tried.”

Michael Christie as conductor was for Berkeley “a natural choice.” “I knew his work in Brooklyn,” he says. “He was widely praised for his mastery of Ghosts in St. Louis and Ireland.” Earlier in the summer Christie proved himself a Wagnerian of great promise with a Colorado Music Festival program that featured veteran soprano Jane Eaglen in the “Liebestod” from Tristan and the “Immolation scene” that concludes Götterdämmerung.

John Corigliano based Ghosts largely on The Guilty Mother, the third part of Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy. Sets for the production are by John Kasarda; costumes by Marina Reti.

John Corigliano’s Ghost of Versailles is on stage in Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House at 7 p.m. on August 19 and 21. For information and tickets at $25 to $50, call 1-970-925-9042 or

Wes Blomster

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