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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’.
15 Mar 2011
Strict courtly hierarchies and the repressed formality of ritual juxtaposed
with violent sexual jealousy and lurid erotic excess … a stage-world
more suited to the Straussian insalubrity of Salomé than to the epic
grandeur of Verdi’s Aida, perhaps?
production, first seen in 2010 and here given its first revival, never wavers
in its presentation of grotesque barbarism and sexual abandon —
blood-thirsty gladiators run amok among nubile, naked maidens etc. — and
while such goings-on may not be to everyone’s taste (indeed, some might
argue that ‘taste’ doesn’t feature strongly in the
proceedings), McVicar certainly injects freshness into Verdi’s old
warhorse, thankfully avoiding the kitsch of cod-Egyptiana.
The first challenge for the audience is a visual one: for Jean-Marc
Puissant's sets reject the beauty and exoticism of ancient Egypt in favour of
dull modern industrialism: a huge wall of scaffolding, harshly illuminated by
diagonal strip lights, dominates the stage. Not an elephant or sphinx in sight;
but also little visual beauty to complement the tenderness of the delicate
lines that open Verdi’s magical prelude. We are among a barbaric,
theocratic society, one driven by human sacrifice: salacious human slaughter
blesses Radamès’ departure for war, and the victims’ bloodied
bodies are hoisted to form a canopy of carcasses to celebrate his return.
Clearly McVicar wants to emphasise the soullessness of this brutal,
compassionless community. But, at times he struggles to sustain consistency;
for example, the eclectic, international selection of primitive tribal dress
worn by the cast seems to have little to do with the gloomy dystopian
In the absence of a coherent mise-en-scène, it’s left to the
singers themselves to provide dramatic logic and focus; and here the problems
start, for the cast, while rich in musical talents, display a dearth of
interest in communicating narrative or engaging emotionally with each other,
preferring the stand-and-deliver approach, bellowing into the auditorium
apparently impervious to the manic action occurring behind them.
There are two casts for this revival. Only one member of the original cast,
Micaela Carosi, was expected to reprise her role, as the eponymous princess in
the ‘Cast A’ performances; however, due to pregnancy (the official
line goes …) she withdrew and was replaced at short notice by the
Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska. Making her house debut — she is
to return in May as Lady Macbeth in Phyllida Lloyd’s production —
Monastyrska revealed a powerful, opulent voice, firm and controlled in the
lower register (in ‘Presago il core’, for example), and full in
tone right to the top; in her great Nile scene aria, ‘O patria
mia’, she floated the fiendish final phrases with ease, her breath
control superb. At times, she made effective use of a dusky, exotic colouring,
but it’s a shame that it was impossible to distinguish a single word of
the text, and she didn’t quite have the confidence to risk the true
pianissimos that the score demands.
Roberto Alagna as Radames and Priestesses
Roberto Alagna has an uneven history in the role of Radamès (audience
displeasure with his ‘Celeste Aida’ led to his infamous walk-out at
La Scala in 2006), and some have judged his voice too small for the part.
However, here he showed that he now has the required vocal power; brimming with
confidence, he never once lessened the ardour. Indeed, this was a puffed-up,
machismo reading of Radamès, and again there was little in the way of what one
might call acting. He opted out of the morendo on the high B♭
at the close of ‘Celeste Aida’, choosing instead the less risky
alternative of repeating the final phrase slightly less loudly. A lack of
nuance diminished the poignancy of the final duet (and the bare stage suggested
that McVicar had run out of ideas by the later acts), but overall there was
plenty of heroic strength and earnestness, which seemed to satisfy the
As Amneris, Russian mezzo soprano Olga Borodina was similarly impressive in
vocal stature, and she achieved a true Verdian colour and warmth. She shared
the theatrical weaknesses of the other principals, but her stunning, burnished
tone was apt compensation. Dramatic credibility was restored by Michael Volle,
a resonant and commanding Amonasro whose Act 3 duet with Aida was a rare and
moving moment of engagement, interaction and insight; here, Volle truly
communicated the father’s appreciation and regret that his own public
actions and concerns will cause his daughter to suffer such deep private pain.
In the smaller roles, Vitalij Kowaljow was underwhelming as Ramfis —
perhaps his voice was muffled by his ridiculously over-sized headdress? —
but Brindley Sherratt, an imperious King of Egypt, was in fine voice.
Olga Borodina as Amneris and The Royal Opera Chorus
Apart from one or two places where singers and orchestra momentary came
adrift, Fabio Luisi did an excellent job in the pit, whipping up the players in
the climactic moments, and demonstrating a strong sense of the shape and pace
of the whole.
Overall, despite its musical strengths and potentially intriguing concept,
this production remains unsatisfying. Part of the problem is that McVicar is
absorbed primarily by the ‘love triangle’ but does not connect the
protagonists’ experience with the wider context. In contrast to the
dynamic dramatic swiftness of Verdi’s other political intrigues, Aida is
unwieldy and often downright static. One can’t get away from the fact
that Verdi’s opera is a big, bold beast; the challenge is to both
juxtapose and integrate the moments of private intimacy with the grand ceremony
and pageantry of public triumphal processions and dances. McVicar gives us only
one half of the show; Radamès’ commanding entry at the commencement of
the Grand March, stage-enveloping train majestically trailing in his wake, is a
rare and arresting moment of grandeur. More usually, the crowd scenes are
under-directed — why have extra chorus members if you don’t know
what to do with them, or simply aren’t interested? And there’s just
too much standing about and arm waving: ironically, in striving for the shock
of the new, McVicar has lapsed into the clichés of old.