Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
22 Apr 2011
Otello, Carnegie Hall
By the time he emerged from retirement with Otello, his
twenty-seventh opera, at 73, there wasn’t much Giuseppe Verdi
didn’t know about how to make an orchestra do his bidding, set the mood
of each line of a good story, piling excitement on excitement and letting the
tension mutate to something gentler at the right times in order to make the
outburst to follow the more demoniac.
This makes the score one of particular
delight to an instrument as skilled and as superbly led as the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra (and its equally illustrious chorus), and the opera’s appeal
clear to its director, Riccardo Muti, a former music director of La Scala.
When, at sixteen, I told my father that I had discovered opera, he got me my
first opera recording: the von Karajan Otello with Del Monaco and
Tebaldi, both singers considered definitive interpreters of the roles at that
time. (In the Rome Opera House, there is a wall-size bronze plaque dedicated to
Del Monaco, with his profile and the bar lines for Otello’s opening
“Esultate…,” a terrific way to remember a tenor, eh?) I
listened to this first recording devoutly, and then encountered the opera in
performance in perhaps Franco Zeffirelli’s finest bit of stagecraft at
the Met, under Böhm, with Zylis-Gara, Vickers and Milnes singing and acting it
superbly. And there have been many great Otellos for me since then
(McCracken, Domingo, King, the frighteningly quiet Willow Song of
Pilar Lorengar, the horrifying Iago of Wassily Janulako), but there were things
in the orchestration that I had not noticed until the Chicago’s
performance before a packed Carnegie Hall last Friday. This points up one of
two advantages about a concert performance of an opera (the first being that no
stage director to distract you from the piece being performed with his own
irrelevance): You can hear the orchestra more clearly, often playing with more
care, than you can in the opera house, where there is a covered pit and the
distractions of the stage and the attention (and the limelight) squarely on the
Riccardo Muti, who has conducted hardly any opera in this country, got his
start in the opera house and his original fame as a stickler for the letter of
the score. This has led to many productions of operas of an earlier era that
aficionados deplore as lacking the high spirits that idiosyncratic singers (of
the best sort) could bring to them. Muti’s attention to detail, to the
symphonic picture and to dramatic propulsion suits some operas better than
others, and Otello is a case where the composer knew just what he
wanted and took infinite pains to achieve it. Muti has great fun with it,
reaching out to each section with clutching, pleading hands, wooing them into
the dynamic he desired. There were times during the lighter, merrier moments
with which Verdi intended the dark drama to be studded—the drinking song,
the “flower” chorus, the “handkerchief” trio in Act
III—that an airier spirit sometimes eluded his attention, but placing the
Chicago Symphony in the hands of such a technician produces gilded, glowing
effect upon effect, each tremolo wind in perfect tune (from sighing violins to
threatening, murmurous basses), each thunderous brass outburst ideally
The singers, all well chosen, were not in quite such superlative form as the
orchestra and chorus. Aleksandrs Antonenko, singing though ailing, in Italian
rather better than his French in last year’s Les Troyens at the
same hall, demonstrated real tenor ping (as the aficionados say) on
Otello’s abrupt rises from the conversational to the furious and was
never overwhelmed by the orchestra. His quieter, more tragic moments were
affecting as well. Krassimira Stoyanova, who has sung Desdemona to acclaim from
Vienna to Barcelona, was occasionally flat in the Act I love duet, but her
placid, dignified bewilderment in the rest of the opera was true and sweet, her
Willow Song and Ave Maria quietly devastating. Carlo Guelfi, not always the
most exciting of baritones, sang a worthy, menacing Iago, with diabolic energy
to his cries of “O gioia!” as his wicked plots moved to fruition.
Juan Francisco Gatell’s Cassio and the few (but full and lovely) notes of
Barbara Di Castri’s Emilia made one eager to hear more of their singing.
Only Eric Owens, the growling Lodovico, proved a disappointment.