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The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
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’.
16 Jan 2011
The Magic Flute and La Traviata, New York
The dust on 65th Street is clearing up and the reviews for the renovated Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts are in — the piazza is being hailed as newly “inviting” by architects and arts critics alike, and rightly so.
But what about the individual institutions that make Lincoln
Center the landmark it is? How can we make them as welcoming?
On January 6, the Metropolitan Opera attracted a large and lively crowd for
the season’s final performance of its reduced version of Julie
Taymor’s production of The Magic Flute, sung in English. Despite
the family appeal, the adults in the audience still far outnumbered their
Unfortunately, there were moments of obvious disconnect between conductor
Erik Nielsen, the Met orchestra, and the singers. The evening got off to a
rough start due to the awkward excising of the overture and some rather
listless performances from Bruce Sledge as Tamino and Wendy Bryn Harmer, Jamie
Barton, and Tamara Mumford as the Three Ladies. Things didn’t pick up
until Nathan Gunn’s assured entrance as Papageno.
Susanna Phillips worked hard to make her Pamina three-dimensional and she
succeeded despite some bizarre staging and an inexplicable costume. Bass Morris
Robinson deserves kudos for his performance as Sarastro. He was one of only a
few artists who made the most of singing and speaking in the audience’s
vernacular. Ashley Emerson did an especially good job with her spoken scenes as
Papagena and brought real charm to the role.
There are several fun moments in this production but, on the whole, the
performance felt uncoordinated and severely lacking in the magic department. At
the curtain call, a man sitting behind me yelled “Bravo!” when a
cast member came onstage to take a bow, but then immediately turned to his
companion and said, “I don’t even remember that guy!” Yes,
that man in the audience can say he went to the opera and maybe he even enjoyed
the 140 minutes he spent there, but the nearly instantaneous amnesia he
experienced is not what opera is about. I began to wonder exactly how much
putting a friendlier face on Lincoln Center has cost, and not necessarily in
Marina Poplavskaya as Violetta and Mattew Polenzani as Alfredo
When the audience is packed with people young and old cheering in the aisles
has the battle for a more “inviting” Lincoln Center been won? Not
if they’re streaming out the doors before the prima donna has taken her
bow. Not if they forget about the opera they just saw before they even catch a
cab at that fancy new underpass.
If Thursday night’s performance was unmemorable, Friday night’s
showing of the Met’s newly acquired production of La Traviata
provided plenty to think about. German director Willy Decker has not only
stripped the drama to its essentials, he also effectively changed the
opera’s architecture by eliding the final three acts into a single
sequence. Strangely enough, this had less of an effect on the combined acts
than it had on Act I, which felt weakly related to the rest of the evening.
Still, the evening progressed seamlessly from the single intermission to the
end, the drama unfolding at a relentless pace that illustrated both
Violetta’s lifestyle and her illness.
Restructuring the opera in this manner created an added challenge for Marina
Poplavskaya in the title role. In the first act her defiant and flippant
Violetta spent practically the entire time posturing and posing. This could
have been dramatically effective if the singing had been tossed off with more
ease. As it was, both the acting and the singing felt effortful. Still, she met
the trials of the long second half and her performance of “Addio, del
passato” was genuinely touching.
As Alfredo, Matthew Polenzani sang with an appealing mix of passion and
elegance despite a few potentially awkward staging moments. Moreover, he was
the only cast member to comfortably fit Decker’s style within a greater
musical context. Playing the elder Germont, Andrzej Dobber sang and acted with
unusual brusqueness. Although a refreshing reminder of bourgeois prejudices,
this harshness should have been better tempered with more subtle compassion in
order to make his later actions logical and to soften his sound in places.
Mattew Polenzani as Alfredo and Andrzej Dobber as Germont
Jennifer Holloway was a stylish and androgynous Flora but, because of her
costuming, she got lost in the crowd despite a fine performance. In the
dramatically expanded role of Dr. Grenville, Luigi Roni did an excellent job of
segueing between the part as originally written and functioning as an effective
personification of death. Among the comprimario parts, Maria Zifchak was
excellent and underused as Annina. Juhwan Lee and Joseph Turi both made strong
impressions as well.
As for the production itself, only time will tell if Decker’s version
can withstand the rotating casts and quickly changing tastes that burden a
repertory production of La Traviata. While the previous Met production
practically engulfed singers with its fussiness, Decker’s is brilliantly
and almost cruelly exposed. Furthermore, while the attractive set and nearly
uniform costumes feel both contemporary and timeless, they have a whitewashing
effect that the singers must fight against. A power couple such as Anna
Netrebko and Rolando Villazon may have done it with ease, but it is difficult
to imagine a pair of singers who could match their success. However, the
staging and design of Decker’s production (with sets and costume designs
by Wolfgang Gussmann) are intriguing and enjoyable. Like the renovations that
surround the opera house, I consider the Met’s new Traviata to
be a success.
W. A. Mozart: Magic Flute — Pamina: Susanna Phillips; Queen of the Night: Erika Miklosa; Tamino: Bruce
Sledge; Papageno: Nathan Gunn; Speaker: Tom Fox; Sarastro: Morris Robinson;
Papagena: Ashley Emerson; 1st Lady: Wendy Bryn Harmer; 2nd Lady: Jamie Barton;
3rd Lady: Tamara Mumford; Monostatos: Joel Sorensen. Conductor: Erik Nielsen.
Production: Julie Taymor. Set Designer: George Tsypin. Costume Designer: Julie
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata — Violetta: Marina Poplavskaya; Alfredo: Mattew Polenzani; Germont: Andrzej
Dobber; Flora: Jennifer Holloway; Annina: Maria Zifchak; Gastone: Scott Scully;
Dr. Grenvil: Luigi Roni; Giuseppe: Juhwan Lee; Messenger: Joseph Turi.
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda. Production: Willy Decker.