Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
12 Jul 2011
Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago Commemorates Gustav Mahler
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death Carlos
Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra gave in early July two performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde featuring the vocal soloists Alexandra Petersamer and Christian Elsner.
The work by Mahler was preceded,
fittingly, by the Musique funèbre of Witold Lutoslawski, which had
originally been composed for the anniversary of Bartok’s death and first
performed in 1958. In its performance of the latter work written for string
orchestra the Grant Park Orchestra under Kalmar gave a seamless account of the
score. The somber introduction for cellos is followed by the gradual
introduction of other string groups. A foremost impression left by these
performances is the sense of symmetry in Lutoslawski’s “memorial tribute”
as the cello ensemble returns to close the piece in an audible mirror of its
opening. The four parts of the work entitled Introduction, Metamorphoses,
Apogee, Epilogue draw on varying sound palettes for individual and groups of
sting players. After the cellos are joined by the remaining strings, tempos
increase and allow for declarative statements performed forte. This
technique used in the two middle segments of the piece is varied by sections
played piano, where the basses used gentle bowing to touching effect.
In much the same way, fragments of melodies were played by individual groups,
the full melodies then growing into a perceptible unit as tempos accelerated
forcefully. A lush, neo-Romantic transition formed the bridge to the
conclusion, or Epilogue, as Kalmar led his players toward a dignified statement
of tribute with the individual strings dissolving into the inexorable return of
The performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde followed this
memorial piece without intermission. In the first of the six vocal parts,
“Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde” (“Drinking Song of Earth’s
Misery”), Mr. Elsner sang with lyrical and dramatic force from the start, as
he gave appropriate intonation to the word “klingen” (“resound”). In
the delineation of the “Lied vom Kummer” (“song of care”) Elsner’s
emotional line was matched by the distinctive solo for oboe. Decoration was
taken here as marked with the tenor’s melisma sung on “Fülle”
(“abundance”), so that the word as performed reflected its meaning.
Starting at this point the English horn solo in this performance lent a
complementary sense of melancholy to both the voice and recurrent notes of the
oboe. The concept of eternity, which recurs memorably in the final part of
Das Lied, is here broached, as the tenor contrasts duration and
mortality in “Firmament” and “Der Mensch” (“the heavens,” “You, o
mortal”). Here Elsner’s pitch was less distinctive, as the attack on
“Mondschein” (“moonlight”) and “Gräbern” (“graves”) was sung
with greater force than suitable.
The second song, “Der einsame im Herbst” (“The Solitary one in
Autumn”), introduced the performance of Alexandra Petersamer. From the start,
the security of the singer’s range assured poignant delivery of lines such as
“Vom Reif bezogen stehen alle Gräser” (“The blades of grass stand
covered with frost”). Here Petersamer’s voice rose from stirring low notes
to a bright top with focus on “Gräser” and, with parallel approach at the
close of the strophe, on “ausgestreut” (“scattered about”). When
Petersamer began the penultimate strophe in this brief segment, she sang the
line “Mein Herz ist müde” (“My heart is weary”) with the pitch toward
flat as an illustration of this emotional state. In “Ich hab’ Erquickung
not!” (“I need refreshment!”) she engaged in what approached a dialogue
with the low strings. As a final statement of yearning “Sonne der Liebe”
(“Sun of love”) was delivered by Petersamer with full and convincingly
In the two vocal parts at the center of Das Lied both singers and
orchestra responded to the challenges of tempo in their accomplished
performances. In “Von der Jugend” (“On Youth”) Elsner showed skillful
modulation as he wrapped the vocal line around accelerated playing. Just as
Kalmar’s masterful direction eased the orchestra’s pace at “Wunderlich im
Spiegelbilde” (“Wonderfully in the reflection”), the singer’s voice
showed a matching deceleration, only to conclude this song by reversing the
technique. In her medial song, “Von der Schönheit” (“On Beauty”),
Petersamer was equally impressive as her voice imitated the “caressing
gestures” of “Schmeichelkosen” as well as the sounds of youths riding
their steeds through branches along the river’s bank. In her approach to the
last strophe of this segment she used exquisite lyrical phrasing and
piano shading to communicate the yearning of the fairest maiden
looking after the youth as he galloped away. With tasteful decoration placed on
“Sehnsucht” (“longing”) and “ihres Herzens” (“of her heart”) a
secret melancholy brought the segment to its moving conclusion.
In his last selection, “Der Trunkene im Frühling” (“The drunkard in
Spring”), Elsner contrasted the emotional opposites of toil and torment with
the happy “cheerful day” (“lieben Tag”). After sorting through issues
of volume in the initial strophe Elsner came into his own at the line “Mir
ist als wie im Traum” (“It seems to me like a dream”). At the words
“schwarzen Firmament (“dark heavens”) and “betrunken sein” (“remain
drunk”) Elsner released powerful forte notes directly on pitch to
emphasize his persona’s resolve.
As the final and longest of the six parts of Das Lied Petersamer sang “Der
Abschied” (“Farewell”) with touching clarity of tone. After the
orchestral opening during which oboe, English horn and flute hint at departure,
Petersamer’s singing merged with the instrumental soloists to echo and to
enhance their mood. Her pure, high notes on “nieder” (“downward”) and
“Schatten” (“shadows”) emphasized the words’ true meanings by
contrast of vocal line. The ghostly pitches applied to “Hinter den dunkeln
Fichten!” (“Behind the dark pines!”) evoked an evening’s solitude in
nature coupled with a desire for companionship. While delineating the
atmosphere in the forest her lowest notes were fully audible as the orchestral
texture mimicked the sounds of birds. At this point Petersamer’s
diminuendo on “hocken still” (“crouch silently”) effectively
capped the emotive setting in nature. As her declarations on beauty echoed
earlier sentiments, an orchestral interlude extended the atmosphere with
notable contributions from the woodwinds and low strings. Petersamer’s
singing concluded the piece as the “Trunk des Abschieds” (“Cup of
Farewell”) began the future thematic wandering of the departing friend. The
singer’s elaborate, meaningful decoration executed on “einsam Herz”
(“solitary heart”) illustrated along with the concluding intonations on the
repeated “ewig” (“eternally”) that this was a performance of Das
Lied von der Erde in which text and music are ideally joined, where poetry
and song receive their due when performed with such significance.