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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.



Richard Strauss
14 Aug 2011

Ariadne auf Naxos, Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble

Today’s general public labors under the unfortunate misconception that in order to enjoy opera, one needs to be educated and at ease with mobility in social circles largely consisting of decrepit old rich people.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Click here for cast information.

Above: Richard Strauss


What the general public doesn’t understand is that this very same question has been debated for centuries within the realms of opera itself. The question of high-brow versus low-brow entertainment goes back at least to the creation of Italian opera buffa, which dates from the Enlightenment. The comic, and consequently unflattering, portrayal of the aristocracy which has come to define opera buffa set the genre at odds with opera seria, which attempts to depict the aristocracy as noble human beings who tragically suffer for the good of the state. This binary, which epitomizes the adage that tragedy shows us our betters, while comedy scoffs at the misfortune of others, has defined opera ever since. However, by integrating operas buffa with opera seria, Richard Strauss’s opera-within-an-opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, carried the tradition of opera buffa into the 20th century.

Dell ‘Arte Opera Ensemble’s recent production of this bubbling comedy should be commended for an all-around stylish performance which captures the wit and the lyricism of this work. The term “Mozartian” has been applied to other Strauss comedies like Die Liebe der Danae and Der Rosenkavalier; however, this assessment sometimes seems implausible simply because Strauss was working with an orchestra of Wagnerian force. An orchestra of this size was simply not available to Mozart. This explains my fear on seeing that the orchestra was considerably smaller than the normal forces required. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conductor Christopher Fecteau struck a noteworthy balance between humor and aesthetics, bringing a classical precision to the trio of the nymphs in the opera proper was certainly reminiscent of Der Rosenkavalier.

Mezzo Sarah Heltzel was utterly compelling as the Composer (played by Juli Borst on August 18 and 20). The blind devotion to music as an art form that she injected into the character made the themes of the opera, the conflicts between what a composer wants to write and what his audience wants to see, more tangible than in Strauss’s last opera, Capriccio where the question that was debated was whether, when writing an opera, were words or music were more important. Like soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who played the prima donna, (who is played by Jane Shivick on August 18 and 20) the commitment that Heltzel brought to the role served as fodder for the contrast between their idealized view of art and the more realistic view of opera, as personified by the commedia dell’arte troupe and soprano Jennifer Moore, who played Zerbinetta (played by Jennifer Rossetti on August 18 and 20). Stewart sang warmly, yet when called for, she could also sing powerfully.

Jennifer Moore was delightfully girlish as Zerbinetta. Her portrayal strengthened the parallels between Strauss and Mozart, as her Zerbinetta could be a modern-day Zerlina or Despina. It should be said, however, that in the Prologue, despite her glorious high notes, the body of her voice was slightly heavier than other Zerbinettas, such as Elisabeth Schwartzkopf’s. That said, she could be lyrical when called for. More importantly, Act II was her time to shine. She clearly relished her showpiece; her cadenzas were simply stunning. At the same time, her singing highlighted the implied mockery of the proverbial bel canto scena, which coloraturas love to lose their minds to.

As the Dance Master, Edwin Vega (played by Andrew Klima on August 18 and 20) obviously had fun, and his light tenor was always a joy to hear. In the second act, he vocally outshone the other the singers in the commedia dell’arte troupe. That said, the troupe worked cohesively as a team and created immensely comical portrayals of each character throughout. The trio of the nymphs was in splendid vocal form as well. On the whole, the only rough spot in the second act was Shawn Thuris’s rendition of Bacchus, which was a little understated compared to that of his partners on stage. Even so, there were moments where his singing shone through.

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is one of a number of organizations, such as Wolf Trap Opera Company, that is dedicated to providing young singers with the tools they need to succeed in the extremely competitive world of opera. However, this company is still unique insofar as it performs in a Greenwich Village loft, allowing the audience to be quite literally feet away from the actors. I even had the honor of shaking hands with Zerbinetta. In this way, Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble provides an invaluable experience not only for its singers, but to its audiences as well.

Gregory Moomjy

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