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.
27 Oct 2010
Piotr Beczala: Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera
Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette is almost more musical than opera. Everyone knows the story, and it would be hard to compete with Shakespeare. Gounod wisely focused on music, rather than drama.
Hence the reputation of this opera has rested on its showpiece arias, and on
good performances. Piotr Beczala defined this production at the Royal Opera
House, London with an excellent Roméo, well shaped vocally and expressively
full of character.
Piotr Beczala as Roméo
Beczala is relatively new to Roméo, having created it at Salzburg in 2008,
and again in August 2010. Nino Machaidze sang Juliette at Salzburg this year
too, at later stages of the run, which started with Anna Netrebko and Beczala.
Pairing Beczala and Machaidze for the London production was an inspired choice.
Although the productions in Salzburg and London are completely different,
Beczala and Machaidze carried over what they’d built previously.
The London production is Stephen Barlow’s revival of Nicholas
Joel’s production, revived only for the second time since 1994.The sets
are like picture postcards, and the pace of movement staid, almost unnatural.
It’s worrying when the most vivid scenes are choreographed by the Fight
Director, Philip Stafford. Admittedly, Gounod’s treatment of Roméo et
Juliette doesn’t lend itself to intellectual depth, but fortunately
Beczala amd Machaidze injected enthusiasm into the production.
Nino Machaidze as Juliette
Beczala’s Roméo defined the performance. Excellent pitch control,
luscious timbre. A wonderful and deeply expressive “L’ amour, oui,
son ardeur a troublé tout mon être!”. The love duets were beautiful, even
if Beczala overshadowed Machaidze’s Juliette. Still, that’s not
surprising, as he’s just more experienced. With Netrebko he must have
been superb. In the last act, Beczala’s “Salut, tombeau sombre et
silencieux!,” was well modulated, emotionally profound. marred very
slightly when he had to turn backwards, projecting sound awry. I loved
Beczala’s Shepherd in Szymanowski’s Król Roger and enjoyed
hearing him develop over the years. Romantic Heroes are now his forte, but he
has the depth, I think, to eventually tackle Heldentenor territory.
Alfie Boe as Tybalt
Machaidze looks like Olivia Hussey in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film of Romeo and Juliet, which adds piquancy to her portrayal. Her voice is light and agile, the brightness of her timbre expressing Juliette’s youthful innocence, her firm lower register expressing the wilder parts of Juliette’s character. Like many 14 year olds, Juliette does extremes, as Shakespeare observed. Machaidze may not have the polish of many much more famous and experienced singers but she’s convincing
enough. When she sings of waking too soon, holding Tybalt’s bloodstained hand, she sings with such fervour that you realize that this Juliette knows what risks she’s taking. Sweet as she is, Machaidze’s Juliette has a brain.
Good performance standards all round. Darren Jeffrey as Capulet towers
physically over the other players, which is as well, for Gounod develops the
part well. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Frère Laurent was also notable and Stéphane
Degout as Mercutio.
Ketevan Kemoklidze’s Stéphano, Roméo’s Page, makes a delightful
impression in the song about doves and vultures, but artistically the vignette
Alfie Boe as Tybalt received prolonged applause which he acknowledged as if
he were a principal. He has a huge following because he does popular song but
that adulation might be his undoing. Not long ago a fan complained when he was
unwell and couldn’t adequately be replaced. That kind of audience
isn’t into opera as such, but in chasing celebrity.
Piotr Beczala as Roméo and Nino Machaidze as Juliette
Gounod’s choruses are justly celebrated and the Royal Opera House
chorus responded well. Here they were directed to maximum advantage, and as
usual, their performance was well executed.
For more information, please see the Royal Opera House