Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.



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):