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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

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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

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A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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La Bohème, ENO

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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.



Antonio Vivaldi: La verità in cimento [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Garsington Opera Festival 2011]
26 Jun 2011

Viva Vivaldi — Garsington Opera 2011

Garsington Opera — in its superb new home on the Wormsley estate in rural Oxfordshire — has yet again confirmed the merit of its decision to promote Vivaldi’s long-ignored operas.

Antonio Vivaldi: La verità in cimento

Click here for cast and other production information.

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of Garsington Opera Festival 2011


The most recent offering is his La Verità in cimento (Truth put to the test) and Garsington have a hit on their hands if the first two performances are anything to go by. The plot is absurd, convoluted and comes down to the effect of one decision, years ago, to switch two babies (and therefore their inheritance) which in turn drives this drama of human love, greed and cold-blooded power seeking. The characters are a dysfunctional royal family whose ruling Sultan is a well-meaning tyrant who makes that one big decision but then lives to regret it as his extended family start to tear each other’s throats out when they learn of the deception as the boys come of age.


This is high-baroque opera, written by the canny Red Priest in 1720, and it is interesting to note that like his near-contemporary Handel, Vivaldi finds the moral (and immoral) dilemmas of the ruling classes of the utmost interest and worthy of his finest musical expression — after all they were his paymasters and themselves much concerned with the problems of succession, inheritance and political marriage. Unlike Handel however, the Venetian composer doesn’t tend to investigate his character’s deepest emotional conflicts with an extensive series of formal arias in classic da capo form — his music is lighter, fleeter and less organised. And yes, let’s face it, less memorable. However, there are some stand-out moments in this charming and melodic score which reveal some very un-Handel -like trios and ensemble numbers which seem to prefigure an altogether different genre of opera writing still very much on the horizon.

As the machinations of this sumptuously-dressed family unfold (much fur, leather and silk worn by all in a clever mix of styles) there is little action per se other than inside each character’s head — so all credit to director David Freeman for making the most of a delightfully outré set designed by Duncan Hayler which offers us an icy palace of glass, metal and white fur rugs with a gleaming, huge white tree dominating as a centre piece. The tree, whose two main branches sweep to the far sides of the stage, presumably symbolises the two warring factions of the two sons and their respective mothers (Sultana Rustena and Mistress Damira) but it also acts as a refuge, love-nest, and lair with its varying levels of platforms and steps. This is clever use of space, and together with the rear and side exits this configuration helps the story zip along as effectively and wittily as does the music from the pit below, directed (and, it would sometimes seem, driven almost physically) by a bobbing, sweeping and multi-tasking Laurence Cummings.


With all the emphasis on the emotions and thoughts of the characters and little physical action or change of location, it is obviously supremely important to have the right bunch of performers and once again Garsington must be congratulated on getting it right. The casting splits into two near-equal halves of the three older generation characters of Sultan, his Sultana, and his long-established Mistress and the three main young characters of his two sons and a visiting Princess who they both (naturally) fall for. Paul Nilon, Jean Rigby and Diana Montague fulfil those elder roles with enormous energy, musicianship and effortless virtuosity: Nilon’s flexible and expressive tenor and stagecraft are as good as ever as the Sultan, Jean Rigby’s (Sultana Rustena) dark mezzo soprano lends itself to her character’s emotional highs and lows (she has a gorgeous slow aria of despair “Fragil fior”, with recorder obbligato, that drew deserved applause), and Diana Montague (Damira, mezzo soprano) was stunning in her portrayal of the wronged Mistress who plans revenge — elegant and fluent coloratura mixed with effortless long-lined phrasing which mirrored her equally elegant couture gowns. These seasoned performers were the musical core of the production, holding everything together with an easy command of the idiom.


Flying higher above them, musically at least, were the younger generation of singers and characters and here the casting was almost as sure-footed. The young soprano Ida Falk Winland (winner of the Song Prize in the 2008 Ferrier competition) divides her time between her native Sweden and the UK at the moment and has an attractive voice with both a bit of weight to it and an obvious facility for Vivaldi’s ornate lines. She was often singing with either one or both of her “suitors”, the two half-brother princes who, in this production (unlike in the original of 1720, )are sung by countertenors Yaniv d’Or and James Laing, and as it often the way with this voice type the soprano out-sang both in terms of sheer volume. This did tend to unbalance the music somewhat which was a shame as there is a terrific trio for the three which could have been stunning, and perhaps needed a little adjustment on the part of the young Swede for the greater good of the ensemble sound. Yaniv d’Or, ( Melindo), who is not well known in this country, sang and acted with commitment and verve but his voice is not one that immediately attracts. James Laing (Zelim) has a sweet tone, more even and polished than his stage-brother, and I liked his easy top and legato in his more reflective arias. Two non-speaking roles of butler and gardener (the latter oddly placed throughout at the side of the stage busily tying and untying bunches of herbs and flowers — your guess is as good as mine) are uncredited in the programme book.


This might not be world-class opera seria (or buffo) but it is fun, it’s musically fleet-footed and charming , it’s cleverly-produced and directed, and the singers are well-cast and attractive: what more does one need for a high-summer’s evening entertainment in the lush green of an English rural estate? Here’s to Garsington’s next exposé of Vivaldi’s “lost” operas — they are setting themselves a high standard.

Sue Loder

Next performances: 25th, 29th June and 1st, 4th, July. Garsington (at Wormsley), Oxfordshire, UK.

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