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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 !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

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

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

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.



The Metropolitan Opera Gala 1991
24 Oct 2010

The Metropolitan Opera Gala 1991

The 50th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center is just a few years away, so, with something less than dispatch, a DVD of the 25th anniversary Gala appears.

The Metropolitan Opera Gala 1991

Click here for contents

Deutsche Grammophon 000440 073 4582 5 [2DVDs]

$34.99  Click to buy

Recorded in 1991, and spread out over two discs (for no apparent reason, except the higher price a two-disc set can carry), this Gala at least avoids the ubiquitous gala routine of an orchestral overture or two followed by a slow parade of singers laboriously trotting on stage, singing their number, enjoying their inflated gala ovations, and then trotting off again.

Instead, here we have two acts from two different Verdi operas, presented in their entirety on the Met’s then current sets, and then an abbreviated second act from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, the act where a party scene often turns into a sort of gala. And so it does here, at much extended length. At least all the guests are on stage, and the Prince Orlofsky, Anne Sofie Von Otter, introduces each one in character (which brings its own tedium before long, unfortunately).

1991 Metropolitan Opera casting tends toward tenor superstars and sopranos of some contemporary stature, if not exactly star quality. The exception to that latter statement comes in the middle of the evening, when Placido Domingo brings his potent Otello to the stage, with the more than worthy partner of Mirella Freni as Desdemona, and a handsome but somewhat pallid Justino Diaz as Iago. This is act three, not the act four one might expect. The Met chorus gets a larger role, but only Domingo gets a real solo moment. Freni, however, makes the most of her character’s torment at the cruelty of her suddenly insanely jealous husband, and the Zefferelli sets and costumes make for an impressive show.

That act certainly has more dramatic edge than the opening one, the final act from Rigoletto. In Otto Schenk’s atmospheric but dark, dreary set, Luciano Pavarotti is not able to resort to his accustomed charm, and the high notes of his big solo number are very carefully approached. Leo Nucci is now established as a leading Rigoletto; in 1991 he is solid but unremarkable. Perhaps Cheryl Studer could have been called a true opera star in 1991; she certainly made enough recordings and garnered many high-profile assignments. Undoubtedly she still has her fans, but her Gilda here strikes your reviewer as typical of her signing - a pleasant but forgettable tone, lacking in individual touches or color, emanating from an uninspired stage persona. The scene does boast a nice turn from Nicolai Ghiaurov as Sparafucile, but Birgitta Svenden does not impress as Maddalena, and the quartet doesn’t take flight as it should.

The finest baritone of the evening dances out in Der Fledermaus - Hermann Prey. Act two doesn’t give him much to do, but his charm is irrepressible. In the gala sequence that soon follows, he chooses to sing an unchallenging Papageno aria. Von Otter’s Orlofsky is amusing enough, bearing a curiously strong resemblance to mid-1980s David Bowie. Barbara Daniels as Rosalinde displays an attractive physical presence and a vocal instrument of such bright, laser-like focus that it quickly becomes tiring to the ears.

The gala sequence strikes few sparks. Frederica Von Stade charms her way through a lightweight Offenbach piece. Described by Von Otter/Orlofsky as a “rising star,” Thomas Hampson all but shouts his way through “Largo al factotum.” After June Anderson’s piercing rendition of “Je suis Titania” from Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon (points for relative obscurity!), Sherill Milnes is introduced as the era’s reigning baritone. His reign is clearly in its last days, as Milnes struggles to keep pitch and line in Bernstein and Sondheim’s “Maria.“ Aprile Millo is in good voice for “La Momma Morta,” and Ferrucio Furlanetto does a fun turn with Don Giovanni’s catalog aria. Singing a Donizetti piece, Kathleen Battle displays her star power and none of the idiosyncracies that would eventually end her Met career. Samuel Ramey follows Milnes to Broadway with “The Impossible Dream,” in a ludicrously string-heavy arrangement that conductor James Levine beats to death. After Mirella Freni’s elegant aria from Adriana Lecouvreur, the gala finally earns the name with Luciano Pavorotti and Placido Domingo camping it up in the act three Boheme tenor/baritone duet. Domingo, of course, takes the Marcello line, and he has to push a bit in the lower range, but the performance is charming and enjoyable.

For any opera fans for whom the late 1980s and early 1990s were prime years may well treasure this document. For many others, it will be a telling reminder all times are indeed not golden.

Chris Mullins

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