Recently in Performances
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.
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.
10 Aug 2010
Middle Ages Next to Come
According to Paulus Diaconus’ Historia Langobardorum, both
Lombard sovereigns warring for supremacy in late 7th-century Italy — the
legitimate king Perctarit and Grimuald the usurper — behaved rather fairly to
each other and their families.
Above all, there is no evidence that they would
compete for queen Rodelinda, who instead was exiled to Benevento with her
little son Cunincpert and lived peacefully there until Perctarit, after finally
recovering the throne, summoned her back to the kingdom’s capital
Turning into melodrama characters those practical barbarians, more
interested in power than in romance or bloody vengeance, was the endeavor of
such Baroque playwrights as the French Pierre Corneille and the Florentine
Antonio Salvi. The latter’s 1710 libretto for Giacomo Antonio Perti
(Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi), drastically pruned by Nicola
Haym for the London stage, was set to music by Handel in 1725. It immediately
proved a resounding success, also thanks to a cast including soprano Francesca
Cuzzoni in the title role, the legendary Senesino as Bertarido, and some of the
best singers available in the side-roles: tenor Francesco Borosini, bass
Giuseppe Maria Boschi, and alto castrato Andrea Pacini.
Franco Fagioli as Bertarido [Photo by Laera]
The present staging in Martina Franca, a festival traditionally claiming to
“authentic” performing practice, plunged the romanticized
18th-century music drama back into the darkest Middle Ages, or into a
“Middle Ages next-to-come”, as phrased by director Rosetta Cucchi.
At least visually, through the combination of muddy and disheveled landscapes
with costumes (by Claudia Pernigotti) featuring leather, rags, metal
decorations, and heavy-duty boots. Entertaining enough, but how much
“authentic” is questionable, if only one checks Senesino’s
portrait as Bertarido in the flamboyant livery of a Hungarian haiduk,
as painted by John Vanderbank in 1725. At the most, this is
Regietheater that dare not speak its name, a compromise likely to
dissatisfy modernists and authenticists alike.
The show’s musical side was far more convincing, with the Swiss
conductor Diego Fasolis succeeding to elicit from the festival orchestra
— equipped with modern instruments plus harpsichord, theorbo and Baroque
flute — a sound that was both luscious and historically informed. Within
an evenly balanced company, the Argentinean alto Franco Fagioli (Bertarido)
towered for projection, agility, seamless transition between registers,
unfailing musicianship. His manly color and stage charisma may set a new
standard among countertenors. As Rodelinda, mezzo Sonia Ganassi tended to
underact throughout and suffered some strain in the upper register. For her
convenience, a couple of high pitches were transposed an octave lower, and her
whole climactic aria “Ombre, piante” was set in G minor instead of
the original B minor. Nevertheless, she sang with an elegant restraint hitherto
unnoticed in her main repertoire, stretching from Rossini and Donizetti to
Her sister-in-fiction Eduige (the established Baroque specialist Marina De
Liso) outplayed her as to style awareness, consistently unfolding hot
temperament and fanciful coloratura. On the contrary, both the villain
Grimoaldo (Paolo Fanale) and the arch-villain Garibaldo (Gezim Myshketa) were
absolute beginners in the field of early opera, yet delivered their fast runs
and stalking utterances pretty nicely. A further pleasant surprise was the male
alto Antonio Giovannini, who lent the loyal Unulfo mellow color, tasteful
da capos and lots of acting stamina, particularly in the alternative
E-minor version of “Sono i colpi della sorte” after the Hallische
To many affectionate Handelians, the opportunity to hear this and some more
passages restored to the composer’s final intentions was a novelty. Yet
the claim of a “world premiere in Andrew V. Jones’ critical
edition” is mere pressroom hype. The actual premiere with HHA material
before official publication was in Glyndebourne 1998, followed by the Göttingen
Händel-Festspiele in 2000 and sundry houses worldwide. Anyway, the new artistic
manager in Martina Franca, Mr. Alberto Triola, can rightfully boast for
bringing to attention a dramatic masterpiece which, despite its Italian
subject, was hitherto neglected by the major opera theaters in Italy.