Recently in Reviews
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.
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.
09 Mar 2011
Luca Pisaroni at the Wigmore Hall, London
After hearing his stunning Leporello at Glyndebourne and his Figaro at Salzburg, there was no way I was going to miss Luca Pisaroni’s concert with Wolfram Rieger at the Wigmore Hall, London. But I was delighted by how wonderful he sounded close up in recital.
Extremely erudite choice of programme too. When Pisaroni started singing, it fell into place. He’s primarily an opera singer and a specialist in Italian repertoire, Mozart and baroque. He even grew up in Busseto, Verdi’s birthplace, so he could coast to the top “to the manner born”.
So the fact that he chose an unusually intelligent programme says a lot about his versatility and musical instinct. He’s also smart enough to have figured out the Wigmore Hall ethos. Although the auditorium wasn’t full, those who were there were the real cognoscenti, serious listeners who really appreciate good singing (and good programmes). Some of them are getting on in years and don’t get out as much as they used to, so the fact that they were there is a huge compliment to Pisaroni.
And Pisaroni delivered! Schubert wrote several operas in Italian, but instead of singing “bleeding chunks”, Pisaroni picked Drei Gesänge D902 (Metastasio, 1827), which look like excerpts but were written as stand-alones. This integrity brings them closer to Schubert’s song repertoire. They’re Italianate but Schubert’s Austrian aesthetic is clearly distinct. Pisaroni placed the last song in the group first, Il modo di prender moglie (How to choose a wife — for money!), which was a good idea. It’s a strophic comic ballad which doesn’t make great demands — lulls you into forgetting who the composer might be. Then, the first song L’incanto degli occhi (The magic of eyes) where the true Schubertian voice is unmistakable. What a witty juxtaposition! Pisaroni not only has an amazingly good voice, but musical intelligence, too. Then you appreciate the humour in Il traditor deluso (The deluded traitor) which isn’t morbid, despite the title. When Pisaroni sang “Ove son io?” (Where am I?), he repeated it cryptically, I had a vivid mental image of Schubert, frustrated by having too little success in a genre he needed to master if he’d compete with changing fashions.
Hence, Rossini. Again, Pisaroni chose songs rather than bits from popular operas, to connect better with Schubert. Pisaroni is a bass baritone, so the darker timbres were extremely beautiful, but the voice is agile and flexible, so the transits upwards come with ease. Truly a gorgeous voice, full of nuance and colour.
Franz Liszt wrote transcriptions of Schubert’s songs which are still popular today, though they sound much more Lisztian than Schubertian. They’re florid, as if Liszt can’t quite get the Lieder aesthetic and submerges it in too many notes. That’s fine, they’re different composers. Liszt also knew Schumann, the “new music” of the 1840’s. There are well over 70 Liszt songs for voice and piano, but Pisaroni again chose thoughtfully. Two settings of Heine, one of which, Im Rhein im schönen Strome is indelibly associated with Dichterliebe and Schumann. Liszt’s S272 (1855) is a more studied piece, reflecting a different approach to song, which is quite distinct, though the text in the last verse demands similarly strong phrasing.
Pisaroni and Rieger followed with three songs Schumann didn’t set, to emphasize Liszt’s unique style. There are vaguely Schumannesque passages in the piano parts, though Liszt doesn’t write extended preludes and postludes. Der Vätergruft (1844, Uhland) displays Liszt’s gifts as dramatist. The ghost of a knight joins his ancestors in their tomb. “Die Geisterlaute verhallten, da mocht es gar stille sein” (Ghostly sounds fade and silence reigns again). This could almost be a song without words, it’s so effective.
This extremely well planned recital ended with Liszt’s Tre sonetti di Petrarca S270 in the version for baritone and piano. Liszt as pianist triumphs. This isn’t Germanic Lieder by any means but completely unique. Reiger played with great delicacy, matched by Pisaroni’s sensitive modulation. His Benedetto sia’l giorno is truly a love song. He lingers gently on the words “E i sospiri e le lagrime” so they feel like a gentle caress. An exquiste recital wonderfully realized. Next time Pisaroni appears, there should be queues around the block. He’s singing Argante in Handel’s Rinaldo at Glyndebourne this summer with Sandrine Piau, who did fascinating programme of Schubert transcriptions last week. (See review here) So we’ve heard both Pisaroni and Piau in two unusual recitals in the same week at the Wigmore Hall. Brilliant!