Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on
Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so
given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to
see three different productions within little more than a couple of
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
16 Mar 2011
Magnificent Mahler by Shanghai Symphony
It was, of course, only a coincidence, but a week of ideal spring weather — no rain and low humidity — found Shanghai in a perfect mood for an all-Mahler program by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra on March 12.
calls of the First Symphony were unhackneyed, and those who recalled
Mahler’s early programmatic references in the work to the awakening of
spring — to fruits and flowers — found themselves in a magic garden
for a program that combined the Wayfarer Songs and the four-movement
version of the First Symphony. Even had it been performed in a Midwestern
blizzard, however, this was Mahler that made one sit up and listen — and
be grateful for a moving musical experience.
The Shanghai Symphony, which dates back to a municipal band in the 1870s, is
today the outstanding orchestra of Eastern Asia. Under Music Director Long Yu
it has toured Europe and the US and has even been heard at the movies on the
sound track of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although it must be
said that the SSO does not have the refined and mellow sound of many Western
ensembles — the silvered strings and burnished brass, it has something of
greater importance: the dedication of its instrumentalists and their full
emotional involvement in what they are doing.
Guest conductor for Mahler was Chinese-born Lan Shui, currently music
director of the Singapore Symphony and — since 1907 — chief
conductor of the Copenhagen Philharmonic. Given the conductor’s
adolescent mien, it is difficult to believe him old enough to have once been
tutored by Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood. In the States he has held positions
with orchestras in Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore and Los Angeles.
Lan Shui is elegant and unmannered and he knows his Mahler as if by
instinct. His reading of the First Symphony was analytic, but never academic.
He sensed in the score a narrative impulse, but knew how wrong it would be to
make that into a romp through field and forest. And outstanding was his
“feel” for the irony that gives the First that
“there’s-more-here-than-meets-the-ear” sensation. He
deliciously caught the tongue-in-cheekedness of the hoarse bass that leads to
“Brother Martin” in the third movement, thus making clear that this
is funereal music of quite a different color from that heard in the Fifth
For even the still-youthful First can grow lugubrious in the hands of a
conductor with no understanding of the many levels of the score. Thus it was no
surprise when Lan Shui brought the horn section — bells up-turned —
to its feet in the brass blast that concludes the First. This was exuberant
China’s Yang Jie is a true alto with a radiant and resonant low
register well suited to the Wayfarer Songs, on which Mahler worked in
the years of the First Symphony. In the West she includes Carmen in
her signature roles. Long gone is the day when Wayfarer with its story of
unrequited love was consider male property — just as the outwardly
maternal Kindertotenlieder were once assigned to female vocalists. With perfect
German diction Yang Lie is totally at home in the cycle with its shifting
moods, its light and dark moments.
The quality of the March Mahler was undoubtedly enhanced by the presence in
the orchestra of all four members of the Shanghai String Quartet. Founded in
the city three decades ago and now on the faculty of the local conservatory,
the four men enjoy “sacred-cow” status in Shanghai. When in town
they teach at the Conservatory from which they graduated. (In the States they
are in residence at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.) First
violinist Weigang Li served as concert master on March 12.
Although the Shanghai Concert Hall, the orchestra’s local home, was
built by a Chinese architect in 1930, it would be at home next door to
Vienna’s gilded Musikverein or any of the historic halls of Europe that
have survived. The hall — 1200 seats seems a good guess at its size
— was reopened in 2004 following total reconstruction. It is acoustically
sound, and generous lobbies opened onto balconies on a mild March evening. It
is close to downtown, and taxis at a flat rate of 12 Yuan — no tips!
It would be presumptuous for a first-time concert goer in China to draw
sweeping conclusions from a single experience. Nonetheless certain things were
happily obvious. The concentrated — indeed, devout — attention that
the Chinese bring to music is astonishing. Barely a muscle moves; even
breathing seems hushed. There is absolutely no applause between movements, and
the standing ovation now near-obligatory in the West is absent in Shanghai.
Enthusiastic applause continued until conductor took concert master by the hand
and left the stage.
The college-age set is a far larger part of the Shanghai audience than it is
in the States — explained in part perhaps by the fact that the city
boasts China’s major conservatory. And dress? As in almost all countries
today one comes as one is. The “little black dress,” if China ever
had one, has gone the way of the Mao jacket!