Recently in Performances
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.
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.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
03 Feb 2011
Mosheh, a VideOpera
Yoav Gal, an Israeli-born composer-in-residence at the HERE arts complex in
Manhattan’s South Village, calls Mosheh a “VideOpera,” rightly giving as much place to what is seen (electronic projections) as to what is heard (from four sopranos playing the women in the prophet’s life and an orchestra of nine musicians).
Mosheh contains most of what we’ve come to expect from new
operas in the twenty-first century: video and film, of course, and also
gamelan-derived percussive scoring, surtitles to obviate the need for a
coherent drama, and naked male bodies, in this case the non-singing title role.
(Trivia: Name other title characters who do not sing in their own opera.
There’s La Muette de Portici, of course.)
What Mosheh has that I seldom expect is respectable melody.
Miriam’s serenade to her baby brother as she places him in the Nile is an
especially lovely number; Zipporah’s harsh aria about inventing
circumcision to save her new husband from the Angel of Death is less
immediately attractive. Too, the quartet at the conclusion of the opera when
the women narrate the twelve plagues that fall upon Egypt has an eerie harmony
that calls Benjamin Britten to mind.
What Mosheh, the opera, did not have was a coherent, stageworthy
way of telling its more or less familiar story. Without some Bible reading (or
a viewing of The Ten Commandments) and surtitles, I don’t think
an audience would find the action at all clear. It is rather a costumed series
of individual scenes, all for voices of too striking a sameness. Gal writes
well for the voice, without straining the instrument as the atonal opera
composers were prone to do—because, unlike them, he has not renounced
melody as an expressive tool—also, I suspect, he has studied voice
writing and respects the instrument and its capabilities. His four well-chosen
soloists had no trouble filling HERE’s admittedly small space with
thrilling sound that never made us wince.
But because the vocalism accompanied so little action and no dialogue, the
evening never became a dramatic event, that is, an opera. Were sets and
costumes (wild costumes!) even necessary? Were the tremendously elaborate and
often beautiful projections, which led us, for example, through rows upon rows
of columns into Pharaoh’s throne room, or beside the muddy pools of the
Nile required? Is Mosheh’s presence called for by the music, or would any naked
man (a volunteer from the audience, say) do just as well? Or could we dispense
with him too?
Soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, well known among fans of New York’s odder
opera scenes (she was the Wooster Group’s splendid Didone
Abbandonata), made the most striking impression here as Miriam, acting as
well as singing her lovely music.
Heather Green as Bitia, Beth Anne Hatton as Zipporah, Judith Barnes as Yocheved and Hai-Ting Chinn as Miriam [Photo by Hunter Canning courtesy of seven17 public relations]