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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

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Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

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Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

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Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

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John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

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A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.



Gerald Tyler as the the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahimas the Officer [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of Welsh National Opera]
20 Sep 2010

An experience In the Penal Colony

Kafka's In the Penal Colony set as an opera by Philip Glass? Against all expectations, it was a powerful and deeply moving experience.

Philip Glass : In the Penal Colony

The Officer : Omar Ebrahim, The Visitor : Michael Bennett, The Condemned Man : Gerald Tyler, Conductor : Michael Rafferty, Music Theatre Wales Ensemble, Director :Michael McCarthy, Electronics: Sounds Intermedia, Lighting : Ace McCarron. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, 15th September 2010.

Above: Gerald Tyler as the the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahimas the Officer

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of Welsh National Opera


A Visitor (Michael Bennett) arrives in a remote penal colony. He’s asked to witness an execution. He tries to be completely neutral, insisting that his opinions don’t count because he’s not involved with the system. A Condemned Man (Gerald Tyler) is to be strapped into a machine which kills slowly by driving the words of his “crime” into his body. Thirty years ago I read Kafka’s original story. It’s so horrifying that I haven’t been able to read it since.

It’s so traumatic that you’re forced to respond. Kafka intuited Antonin Artaud’s theory that extremes shake people out of complacency. In the penal colony, people accept the killing machine passively, even though it’s no longer as well maintained as it was when the Old Commander, its inventor, ruled the island. No-one is prepared to take moral responsibility.

Only when the Visitor finally confronts the horror do things change. The Officer, however, has so absorbed the madness that he can’t live without it.

Glass’s music whirls, unearthly sounds projected over a string quintet, mechanical merging with live music, as precisely as cogs in a machine. The endless repetitions fit the plot as tightly as a straitjacket. “Efficient, quiet, anonymous”, as the Visitor explained he’d like to be. You’re half-hypnotized by this strange semi-trance music, just as the protagonists are numbed into accepting their circumstances.

Yet the repetitions move with a crazy logic, sometimes up a notch, sometimes disintegrating into cacophony (such as when the Officer thinks of his homeland — a last glimpse of the man he once was). Pay close attention to the subtle gradations. Like good film music they affect emotions subliminally. You understand how people in the penal colony become machines.

Omar Ebrahim, who sings The Officer, is extremely experienced in contemporary music theatre. His vocal range is prodigious, though not used here where the monotony of the music is part of the plot. Nonetheless, Ebrahim brings surprising lyricism to the part. Some passages shimmer with the fervour of Bach. The Officer’s dedication to his old Commander and to the machine demands total sacrifice. Blasphemy, perhaps, but in the insane world of the penal colony, there’s crazy logic to the idea that the Officer should offer himself to the machine as it falls apart.

The Music Theatre of Wales Ensemble played well. If at times, the electronic projections of Sound Intrermedia — leaders in their field — threatened to overwhelm, it reinforced the disturbing effect of machine overcoming human. Michael Rafferty conducted, Michael McCarthy directed.

The Condemned Man is so debased, the character is silent. Instead, Gerald Tyler moves like an animal, his eyes slanted, flickering like a snake. But for fortune, this dehumanized prisoner could be another Officer.

100913_0043-penalcolony-M-B.gifMichael Bennett as the Visitor, Gerald Tyler as the Condemned Man and Omar Ebrahim as the Officer

Oddly both Tyler and Ebrahim are covered in tattoos which probably pre-date the production. It’s bizarre, since the machine carves words into bodies and the Old Commander’s penmanship was so elaborate the Visitor couldn’t decipher it. Michael Bennett didn’t undress. He disrobed emotionally.

In the Penal Colony isn’t meant to be entertaining. It’s subject is so sick that I can’t imagine what sort of people could sit comfortably through it. You’re forced to take an emotional stand. The Visitor looks at the audience, as if seeking guidance. The Condemned Man grabs the hands of those in the front row. Few will “enjoy” this opera, I guarantee, but it’s a powerful experience. Anyone who can emerge from these horrors unshaken one way or another must be shallow indeed.

Into the Penal Colony runs at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House until 20th September then tours throughout the United Kingdom. Music Theatre Wales is courageous to put this on, because it is an important work. Much more condensed and focused than much of Glass’s other work, this piece will not easily be forgotten.

For more information please see the Music Theatre Wales site.

Anne Ozorio

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