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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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
16 Sep 2010
Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch at Wigmore Hall
In this recital of thirty-four songs selected from Hugo Wolf’s
Spanisches Liederbuch, Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager
revealed the profound emotional intensity of Wolf’s art; the concentrated
ardour of their performance intimated the heightened passion and expressive
angst which, as well as driving Wolf’s creative spirit, also led to
persistent depression and resulted in insanity and finally death in mental
asylum at the age of 42.
Religious fervour and sexual ecstasy are almost indistinguishable in these
songs. Wolf was introduced to Emanuel Geibel’s and Paul Heyse’s
translations of Spanish poetry in 1888, an encounter which unleashed a frenzy
of creative inspiration, and which guided his musical style and techniques in
surprising new directions. Vocal lines are more melodic, less declamatory, than
his earlier settings of Eichendorff, Mörike and Goethe; in these Spanish songs,
Wolf seems to have paid less attention to the exact intonations and rhythms of
the words and instead to have submerged himself in the elated atmosphere of the
The collection is divided into sacred and secular. We began with ten of the
devotional songs, songs which are remarkably consistent in terms of mood, pace
and texture — chordal accompaniments, processional rhythms, repeating
slowly and incessantly — and which accumulate to embody the over-wrought,
obsessive sentiments of the texts.
Ian Bostridge [Photo by Ben Ealovega]
Ian Bostridge is musically and physically suited to this repertoire. His
highly nuanced style of delivery, which can at times seem over-mannered, here
perfectly conveyed the mood of agonizing guilt, self-chastisement and
martyrdom. Moving between pained earnestness and glorious rapture, Bostridge
made effective use of his powerfully focused high timbre, subtle inflections
suggesting a strained desperation, and the rich resources of a more baritonal
range. Ever alert to the piquant dissonances in the accompaniment — the
inexorable chromatic rises, the unexpectedly momentary clarity and light
offered by a major-key resolution — his diction was precise. Tall and
pale, physically responsive to the texts, he seemed to epitomise the
combination mystical reverence and delight in intensely real detail so
characteristic of Spanish baroque art.
‘Ach, wie lang die Seele schlummert’ (‘Ah, how long the
soul has slumbered’) was particularly impressive. A tritone fall in the
piano bass and the sparseness of the accompaniment at the opening of the song
create a deathly, muted ambience; Bostridge’s voice sank into its lower
regions, then rose and warmed startlingly in a glorious imitation of real and
figurative illumination as ‘the longed-for light/breaks through and
dazzles [my soul’s] eyes’. The troubled questions of ‘Herr,
was trägt der Boden hier’ (‘Lord, what will grow in this
soil’) were given musical shape by the piano’s rhetorical gestures,
while the tenor line acquired an intense focus in reply, ‘Thorns, dear
heart, for me,/ and for you a wreath of flowers’. Unease gently disturbed
the surface calm, until burst forth in an explicit outburst of anxiety,
‘O my Lord, for whose head are these wreaths woven, say?’ One was
reminded of the expressionist outpourings of El Greco.
Angelika Kirchschlager [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]
Bostridge was partnered in this recital by Angelika Kirchschlager. The
soprano seemed ill at ease initially, and given that she had cancelled a
recital just two days before, we might assume that she was suffering from a bad
cold; for her voice seemed dry and constricted at times, and her breathing
laboured. ‘Mühvoll komm’ich und beladen’ (‘In toil I
come, and heavy-laden’) is a tortured emotional drama, the dissonant
bass-register chords of the piano’s opening capturing the despairing
weariness of the opening lines, ‘In toil I come and heavy-laden,/ receive
me, O haven of mercy!’ However, Kirchschlager struggled to control her
intonation during the biting dissonances which permeate the song. She seemed
more comfortable in the only serene, contented song in the sequence, the gentle
‘Ach, des Knaben Augen’ (‘Ah, the infant’s
eyes’), where she found a warm, restful tone to convey the radiance of
the mother’s love, reflected also by the major tonality and soothing
consonance of the song.
The secular followed the sacred — twenty-four songs about romantic and
erotic love. After the sombre stillness of so many of the sacred songs, the
immediate change of style and pace was surprising: the whirling semi-quavers
and exuberant trills of the triple time ‘Kinge, klinge, mein
Pandero’ (‘Sound, tambourine, sound’) immediately whisking us
off into another world, one of joy, desire, coquetry and mockery. If anything,
it felt as if we were journeying a little too fast, as successive songs tumbled
into one another with scarcely a pause; at times the singers barely had time to
rise from their seats, so rapidly had pianist Julius Drake launched himself
into the next song.
Many of these songs are playfully ironic and tempt the singer to indulge in
some teasing play-acting; Kirchschlager clearly enjoyed the mischievousness,
but in fact she was musically more at home in the more simple euphoric songs,
such as ‘Bedeckt mich mit Blumen’ (‘Cover me with
flowers’); meanwhile Bostridge’s sometimes exaggerated vocal
gestures aptly suggested the dark ironies of these poems. ‘Auf dem grünen
Balkon’ (‘On the green balcony’) was superbly sung: the tenor
savoured the self-mockery of the poet-narrator who describes women’s
guiles, always ‘mixing a drop of sadness into pleasure:/ with her eyes
she leads me on,/ but her finger tells me: No!’ — the slightest
rhythmic hesitation wonderfully imitating the satirical effect of the
Julius Drake relished the complexities and variety of the piano
accompaniments. Bostridge and Drake know each other well; typically, the
rubatos in ‘Wer sein holdes Live verloren’ (‘He who has lost
his loved one’) and the changes of pace in ‘Herz, verzage nicht
geschwind’ (Heart, do not despair too soon’) were perfectly
co-ordinated. Yet Kirchschlager seemed a little rushed, as at times Drake
allowed the admittedly soloistic writing for the piano to encourage him to
dominate and lead, when the suffering soprano might have been pleased to have a
little more time to breathe.
It was not until the twentieth century that the true significance of El
Greco’s dramatic art was appreciated and understood. Wolf is more
fortunate in having singers of this calibre and conviction to remind us what a
startlingly original composer of lieder he was.