Recently in Reviews
Dulce Rosa, a brand new opera, had its world premiere Friday night, May 17, 2013 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. It was produced by Los Angeles Opera, but staged in the smaller theater.
Richard Jones’ 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff translates the action from the first Elizabethan age to the start of the second.
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
10 Oct 2010
Rossini’s Otello at Rossini in Wildbad Festival, 2008
As good a performance of Rossini’s opera as this disc provides, for some equal entertainment value may potentially arise from the booklet essay by one Bernd-Rüdiger Kern (as translated into English by David Stevens).
In explaining the relative obscurity of Rossini’s version of Shakespeare Moorish tragedy, Kern contradicts himself more than once, often within a couple lines: “It is still performed widely in the opera-houses of today” is soon followed by “Revivals of Otello in the modern era, the first of which took place as late as 1954, have not been so numerous as might have been expected.”
Exactly whose expectations that may be, other than the writer’s, remains unclear. Even if one proposed the tragic loss of Verdi and Boito’s masterpiece from the canon, Rossini and librettist Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa’s version would probably be no more frequently staged today than, say, Zelmira or Semiramide (even Kern admits that in the years just before Verdi's Otello, Rossini’s version had already become a rarity). The style and tropes of Rossini’s “serious” operas simply haven’t aged well, and whereas patches of indifferent music don’t really hurt the comedies much, the lack of dramatic tension in the serious operas can make for some sad musical longueurs.
The problem in the first two acts in particular is that the rigorous demands of opera construction at the time mean that the story advances oh so slowly, as each character is introduced and has his or her own number. By act three, however, Rossini is at his best, and the loveliness of Desdemona’s final scene really does rival that of Verdi’s. Jessica Pratt takes this role and exhibits a warm, sweet voice of real quality. Among a large group of high-lying tenors, Michael Spyres in the title role stands out with a richer, more baritonal quality. His scenes with Jago, another tenor, don’t have the fierceness of those between Verdi's Otello and Iago, however. There is no Cassio in this fairly different telling of the story; Rodrigo has a significant part, and Filippo Adami — yes, another tenor — has a pointed, tart voice perfect for the role.
This is a live recording, from the 2008 Rossini in Wildbad Festival. Don’t worry about the defects of many live recordings — stage noise is minimal, and voices are well-captured in a natural mix with the orchestra. Antonino Fogliani leads the Virtuosi Brunensis forces, and they produce a warm, propulsive account, although not always with perfect intonation.
Intrepid shoppers may be able to find the studio version of this opera from a couple decades back, with Jose Carreras. For anyone else interested in this rarity, this version should suffice. The cast may not be familiar, but they are fresh and dedicated to their roles. And then there’s the Naxos price. No libretto is included; the essay joins a detailed synopsis and artist biographies, in English and German.