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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



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

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