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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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
07 Oct 2010
Bizet Les Pêcheurs de Perles - Royal Opera House
Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles is notoriously hard to stage. Because the plot’s so grandiose, the imagination works overtime, dwarfing the music, making it seem puny in comparison. There’s a lot to be said in favour of concert performances because they shift the balance back to Bizet.
What was striking in this performance of Les Pêcheurs de Perles (Pearl Fishers) at the Royal Opera House was how delicate much of Bizet’s writing really is. It doesn’t jump up and grab you like the tunes from Carmen. Bizet knew little about India or Indian music but in his imagination, the exoticism signaled refinement. A petit Trianon East, perhaps, charming, but as authentic as 18th century “oriental” wallpaper. Since we nowadays know more of the reality, which affects our response to Bizet’s watercolours.
Dispense with the “orientalism” and think of Les Pêcheurs de Perles as French fantasy, and the opera falls into perspective. Kings and Priests dominate because peasants are superstitious, and think Holy Virgins will protect them. When the chorus sings of Brahma they could as easily be singing of Jesus. Getting away from literal images allows the music to make sense on its own terms.
Antonio Pappano was wise to let this music breathe. Over-expansive gestures are best left to the histrionic narrative. Bizet imagines India in delicate, refined string textures, flute trills and gently beaten cymbals. Crescendi build up like swells in the ocean, diminuendos evoking refinement and submission. Lovely bell-like miniatures throughout evoking an idea of the East as perfumed and flower strewn as a church in France on a holy day. There’s more drama in this music than the opera is given credit for. Pappano elucidates what’s there, without pushing it past its limits. The delicacy of the playing let themes, such as those from the “big number”, resurface elusively throughout the opera, sometimes so subtle they can be overpowered by being made too obvious..
The Royal Opera House orchestra deserve more appreciation than they get, so it was good to see them on stage rather than hidden in the pit. Seeing the bare structure of the stage was instructive, too, a reminder of just how much art goes into making the fantasy of opera.
Leila is a part almost tailor-made for Nicola Cabell. She’s exquisite, and swathed in sapphire satin creates a character even before she sings. Pretty singing too., but the role, despite its charm doesn’t lend itself to great displays of passion. John Osborne’s Nadir was assertive and lucidly clear in the true French manner. His aria “Je crois entendre encore”, was beautifully shaped and balanced, the orchestra poised around it nicely, so it did feel “caché sous les palmiers.”
The duet “Au fond du temple saint” was very well realized by Osborne and Gerald Finley. Finley was by far the biggest name in the ensemble, however good Osborne, Cabell and Raymond Aceto’s Nourabad could be. More darkness would work better with Zurga, who is a very troubled man indeed, but Finley’s singing is so well modulated that he creates authenticity without much apparent effort.