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 Feb 2011
Iphigénie en Tauride, New York
Gluck’s operas are part of a continuum, a tradition of French vocal
declamation (as opposed to the Italian school of flights of elegant,
open-throated vocal fantasy) that can be traced to him from Lully and Rameau,
and then from Gluck through certain works of Mozart and Gluck’s pupil,
Salieri to the operas of Spontini, Berlioz and Wagner.
It is not a greater or
lesser tradition than the Italian style, but it achieves different dramatic
effects, or the same effects by different means, and individual singers are
often more proficient in one than in the other. Specialists in Gluck being rare
(though he is, happily, going through one of his periodic revivals just now),
one must seek great Gluck singers in other branches of the repertory. Those
trained for Wagner, not too surprisingly, often fit well in the Gluckian glove.
Thus, back in the 1950s, Flagstad and Farrell were both superb as Gluck’s
Alceste and would probably have been exciting as his Iphigénie.
Elizabeth Bishop [Photo by Sasha Vasiljev courtesy of Barrett Vantage Artists]
With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that Susan Graham was indisposed
on the night I attended Iphigénie en Tauride at the Met and would be
replaced by Elizabeth Bishop. I had last heard Bishop as Venus in
Tannhäuser (also a last-minute replacement) and have fond memories of
that performance: a young singer of great authority and potential in dramatic
roles. But Iphigénie is a less one-note conception than Venus; too, she is the
epitome of restraint where Venus is just the opposite.
Gluck’s Iphigénie, taken from Euripides, is a dignified priestess,
torn between her personal, humane, Greek sense of ethics and the demands of the
barbaric society in which she finds herself trapped, demands that include
performing human sacrifices. The screw turns its final gyre when two proposed
victims are her long-lost brother, Oreste, and his friend Pylade. Tension is
provided by the fact that, after fifteen years apart, the siblings do not
recognize each other and somehow never ask each other’s name.
Wouldn’t you tell a priestess your name before she cut your throat?
The situation is resolved in antique high style by the appearance of the
deity, Diane, who rescues the Greeks and abolishes human sacrifice—but
she takes her time to show up (at the end of Act IV), allowing us to comprehend
the noble natures of our legendary characters as they face their predicament.
In Gluck’s stately score dignity is the watchword, though at the Met, in
Stephen Wadsworth’s excessively busy production, Iphigénie is inclined to
hysterical fits and hallucinations. So, for that matter, is Oreste, but he has
an excuse—the Furies drove him mad for his brief fit of matricide back in
Paul Groves as Pylade and Plácido Domingo as Oreste
Bishop sang the priestess-princess with the right stately propriety and a
large, burnished mezzo, but with occasional lapses of evenness, of control,
that suggested she had not fully gauged the demands of this long role. It was
not a fully crafted performance, though a promising one; if Ms. Graham remains
under the weather (Bishop has sung at least one other evening since the one I
attended), another excursion or two should pull it all together. Plácido
Domingo, too, had a cold (and had the Met say so) but, canny codger that he is,
concealed his discomfort behind the craziness Oreste calls for. Not until
Bishop had him on his back on the altar, knife poised above, did the familiar
Domingo sound pour miraculously forth. Paul Groves, as Pylade, had much the
best night of the three leading singers, with an ardent, gleaming sound and
acting that made this two-dimensional sidekick role seem genuinely heroic. Mr.
Groves has usually been regarded as a lightweight, Mozartean tenor, but his
singing here implied that he could take on weightier assignments rewardingly:
Florestan or Samson or (in Domingo’s footsteps) light Wagner. Gordon
Hawkins sang Thoas unimpressively, Julie Boulianne was acceptable as Diane, and
I must say a word about Lei Xu and Cecelia Hall, who made a genuine and joyous
impression in the small roles of Iphigénie’s assisting priestesses. Gluck
obscures no one; his score allows everyone to shine if she or he is able to.
The Met chorus did a tidy a job and Patrick Summers brought out the many
felicities of this gracious, unusual score that sums up so much of where drama
and opera had led by 1779 and predicts so much of what was to come.
Susan Graham as Iphigénie and Gordon Hawkins as Thoas
The Wadsworth production accompanies the “Janissary” percussion
Gluck composed so that we’d know we were in a land of barbarians with
inane and frantic dancing here and there in nooks and landings and crannies of
the set to make us think wild orgies were going on next door. There are also
pointless and tiresome intrusions of the ghosts of persons sung about who have
no business being on stage, where they confuse the casual viewer and annoy the
knowing one. All these things, and Iphigénie’s hysteria could be altered
with a simple restaging. Less easy to comprehend and impossible to forgive is
the positioning of the statue of the goddess in her temple: In all the long
millennia of religious faith, this is surely the only occasion anyone has ever
offered prayers, sacrifices and hymns to the backside of a deity.
Couldn’t they turn her at least ninety degrees and have them offer
sacrifice beside her?
All that aside, it’s a good show.