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.
20 Feb 2011
This production retains a special place in my heart: its first outing in
1999 was my first Parsifal in the theatre. Saving up my student
pennies, I made the journey not once but twice from Cambridge to London, was
mightily impressed the first time and a little irritated the second.
though I began to harbour doubts about some aspects of Nikolaus
Lehnhoff’s production, above all its ending, it remains preferable to
many I have seen in the meantime. Stefan
Herheim’s astounding Bayreuth version stands in a class of its own.
Leaving that aside, however, Lehnhoff is immeasurably superior, say, to the
pitiful, incoherent offeringsfrom Klaus
Michael Grüber for Covent Garden — why on earth did the Royal Opera
revive a universally derided non-production? — or Bernd
Eichinger’s confused effort for the Berlin State Opera, let alone
glimpses of Tony
Palmer’s cod-mediævalism for the Mariinsky. Lehnhoff’s
conception, powerfully aided by Raimund Bauer’s stage designs, stands
very much in the shadow of the Holocaust, taking as a further, generally
productive cue the Waste Land’s ‘heap of broken
images’. Apposite both to Wagner’s drama ‘in itself’
and to how we may now feel compelled to consider it, we encounter in the first
act a community clearly in need of rejuvenation; by the time of the third act,
much has turned to rubble and stone, it not being clear until the end whether
there should remain any hope at all, even under Parsifal, of that rejuvenation.
The second act seems less sure of itself, its abiding images being the bizarre
costumes Andrea Schmidt-Futterer allots to Klingsor (weirdly space-age) and
Kundry (a strange chrysalis, out of and into which she awkwardly squeezes
herself). But compared to the horrors of Grüber’s Covent Garden
production, we perhaps should not concern ourselves unduly with that. What the
whole lacked, I thought, was more incisive direction on stage, doubtless a
consequence of Lehnhoff’s absence through illness: there was more than
the occasional hint of a routine ‘revival’, a great pity given the
The broken railway line present during the whole of the third act is a
powerful ‘broken image’, presumably intended to refer to Auschwitz.
But what is being said there? That the variety of revival offered by the
community’s new leader leads to racial rather than Schopenhauerian
annihilation? That would be wrong-headed in the extreme, but a point of view at
least, yet it seems undercut by the joy with which Kundry — she does not
die — and Parsifal begin their journey along the line. The implication
seems to be that they are wandering off to initiate a sexual relationship:
bewildering, and arguably offensive, in the production’s context. The
production, understandably, appears to waver between a quasi-Adornian attempt
to ‘rescue’ Wagner and a desire to condemn him. Part of the reason,
I suspect, why this conundrum presents itself is the production’s
absolute refusal to engage with the work’s complex relationship towards
Christianity. (I should direct anyone interested in my thoughts on the latter
to an article in The Wagner Journal, 3/3, pp.29-59.) Simply to ignore
the issue seems to me an unduly easy way out. And yes, that includes the
deflating absence of any substitute for the second-act Sign of the Cross; text
and music cry out for something, whatever it might be.
Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting was for the most part something to
savour. Parsifal is by any standards a tough proposition, but the
structure was largely in place, most impressively of all in the first act,
which opened with a beautifully slow yet sustained prelude. The third act
occasionally dragged: not a matter of tempo as such, but of faltering line;
however, I should not wish to exaggerate. The score’s dialectic between
horizontal and vertical demands was more surely navigated than I have often
heard. Moreover, the ENO orchestra gave perhaps the finest performance I have
ever heard from it; I have certainly never heard it finer. Strings had weight,
sweetness, and silkiness, as required, whilst the rounded tone of the brass,
sepulchral and never brash, proved exemplary.
Stuart Skelton as Parsifal and Jane Dutton as Kundry
Allowances had to be made for some of the vocal portrayals — and for
almost all of Richard Stokes’s English translation. The latter is
doubtless an horrendously difficult task to undertake, but some of the
inaccuracies — why change a gander to a ‘duckling’, making
nonsense of the relationship to a goose? — and banalities could surely
have been improved upon. Choral singing was generally very good. Jane
Dutton’s Kundry was sadly below par; one could only regret the absence,
owing to ‘artistic differences’, of the originally advertised Iréne
Theorin. Sir John Tomlinson’s voice is becoming increasingly threadbare
at the top, but there was no denying the overall majesty of his Gurnemanz,
however impoverished the great narrations may have been by the act of
translation. Iain Paterson had a slightly shaky start as Amfortas, but
recovered well, soon erasing unfortunate memories of his bizarre miscasting by
ENO as Don Giovanni; here, instead, we had a typically detailed response to
text and music, and a credible dramatic assumption, for the most part finely
acted on stage. Tom Fox and Andrew Greenan made their respective marks without
blemish as Klingsor and Titurel, both rising vocally above the handicap of
their strange costumes. Stuart Skelton displayed a fine Heldentenor in
the title role, very much in the baritonal, ‘Bayreuth’ tradition.
As with many of the best exponents of the role, he left one initially a little
disappointed, an apparent disappointment rectified by the appreciation of
dramatic strategy: the first act Parsifal should sound somewhat
vacant, in order to allow for the extraordinary development the character
undergoes. (Even ‘extraordinary’ is to put it mildly.) The voice
lacks nothing in power; if anything, the thought occurred that it might have
benefited from a larger space.
Iain Patterson as Amfortas, Adrian Dwyer as First Knight and Robert Winslade Anderson as Second Knight
Indeed, I still wonder whether a theatre other than the Bayreuth
Festspielhaus is a suitable venue for staging Parsifal at all: not out
of misplaced ‘Bayreuth Idealist’ piety, but rather because I think
other, non-theatrical spaces, from Siena Cathedral to the Tate Modern Turbine
Hall, might prove much more appropriate. A work that has so far transcended the
narrow horizons of the Italianate opera house — or, in the case of the
Coliseum case, the music hall! — jars somewhat in such a setting. Whether
one considers that jarring productive may be a matter of taste, however, and
the problem, such as it is, is not ENO’s alone; far from it.