Recently in Reviews
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.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
10 Mar 2011
Cecilia Bartoli in Halévy’s Clari
A key measure of operatic star power is the ability to get an obscure work staged — think Joan Sutherland and her run in Massenet’s Esclarmonde, an outlandish wallow in orchestral excess ladled over a libretto of unfathomable goofiness.
No matter how dubious the chosen work may be, it is sure to have one undeniable virtue for the star — a leading role that encompasses all the singer’s vocal strengths.
Although her performances in staged operas have not been numerous in recent years, there’s no bigger star in classical singing than Cecilia Bartoli. The mezzo-soprano has shown, in a series of best-selling CDs, a comprehensive interest in baroque and early Classical composers, both well-known and lesser-known. In 2008 she brought to Opernhaus Zürich a long-forgotten work of Jacques Fromental Halévy, who is best known today for La Juive, a grand opera with a showcase role for a lead tenor (Neil Shicoff has been that work’s foremost proponent in recent years). Halévy’s Clari, to a libretto by Pietro Giannone, is a very different work — more Mozartean in musical language, and with a simple story that walks an uncomfortable line between comic underpinnings and deeper emotional currents.
The title character, before the stage action begins, has been induced to leave her farm family by an attractive Duke. She expects marriage, but he ensconces her at his home and presents her as his “cousin.” As Clari begins to doubt that she will ever be the Duke’s wife, she slips toward an emotional breakdown. Finally she flees to her home, where she fears her family will no longer accept her. Indeed, her father feels she has shamed the family, but when the Duke follows her to her home, realizing at last what she means to him, the expected happy ending makes its appearance.
Bartoli’s appealing stage manner does not extend to her being a convincing actress, and in the context of the cartoonish production of Moshe Lisher and Patrice Caurier, this staging doesn’t treat Clari’s emotional predicament with sensitivity or insight. Bright colors and broad gestures dominate, as if the creators fear that the audience will grow bored if asked to concentrate on the actual libretto and score. Indeed, Halévy’s music is Mozart-lite, with anodyne recitatives and superficially appealing but quickly forgettable melodies. Apparently, Bartoli herself did not have full confidence in the score, since at key moments she performs a Rossini aria from Otello and a cavatina from an entirely different obscure work of Halévy (La tempesta). Nonetheless, the show is a pleasant enough distraction. An act two chorus sung to an ailing Clari is a beautiful little piece, and an aria sung by a minor character (Bettina, performed by Eva Liebau) struck your reviewer as better than anything Clari gets to sing. The tenor lead, Il Duca, has a nice number or two. John Osborn takes a while to warm up, sounding a bit thin in his first number, with suspect intonation. Even warmed up his voice can’t be called beautiful, but he has real vocal agility and is a scrupulous musician. Unfortunately, as costumed by Agostino Cavalica, he looks less like a handsome libertine of a Duke than an overgrown pubescent boy. The shorts are truly unfortunate.
Adam Fischer and the La Scintilla band enjoy the unchallenging score, keeping things as interesting as possible with sharp rhythms and tight pacing.
Decca offers handsome packaging, although one can’t help but suspect the show is spread over two discs just to offer the set at a higher price point. The expansive booklet features a cartoon-panel version of the synopsis (parts of which also appear in the production as a clever bit of exposition), along with an essay on the opera, a note on the production, and a “Conversation with Cecilia Bartoli,” which is about as conversational as any document emanating from a public relation’s office.
Whether or not this production actually serves as the best representation of the opera Clari, it is very likely to be the only one available, indefinitely (if not infinitely). Bartoli’s vocal charms are on full display, and the show passes the time pleasantly enough.