Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Shui Lan [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra]
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.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 1 in D major (the “Titan”); Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer)

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. Shui Lan, conductor. Yang Jie, alto. Shanghai Orchestra Hall, March 12, 2011.

Above: Shui Lan [Photo courtesy of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra]

 

The bird 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 Symphony.

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 Mahler.

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! — abound.

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!

Wes Blomster

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):