Recently in Performances
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
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As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
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Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
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On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
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Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
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Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
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Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
27 Aug 2011
Franz Schmidt’s The Book with Seven Seals at Grant Park
In keeping with the festival nature of the piece, the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus, along with guest soloists and a guest chorus director, gave two performances of Franz Schmidt’s Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln on recent weekend evenings.
Carlos Kalmar conducted his forces with the intensity needed
to retain the devotional focus and tension throughout the lengthy work. In the
extended and demanding role of Saint John the tenor Robert Künzli gave a
riveting performance of vocal and dramatic strengths. Participating in various
solo and ensemble parts the well chosen cast was made up of soprano Edith
Lienbacher, mezzo soprano Christa Ratzenböck, tenor Alexander Kaimbacher, and
bass Albert Pesendorfer.
The orchestral prelude to Schmidt’s composition returns, as
appropriate, at the close in one of several musical gestures underlining the
cyclical nature of the work. In much the same way, the vocal declamations and
variations on these are performed in complementary passages near the start and
at the end of the work. In the role of both introducing and concluding the
piece Künzli’s unflagging Saint John called upon his listeners to recall
the sacrifice of Christ. Further, he announced that revelations concerning the
end of the world would truly come to pass. Künzli’s approach was at times
dramatic and ringing in delivery, whereas at others he used a lighter tone on
softer intonation (e.g., the word “gewaschen”
[“washed”] in “Der uns geliebet hat und gewaschen von den
Sünden” [“He who loved us and washed us from our sins”]). In
the role of the Lord’s voice Pesendorfer gave a consistently strong
impression in vocal flexibility. His extended mid-range notes on “Ich bin
das A und das O” were followed by exhortations to approach the heavenly
throne with well projected articulation on low bass notes. After this
declaration from above Saint John described the heavenly throne with Künzli
achieving specific emphasis on the dramatic “Donner und Stimmen”
(“thunder and voices”). As he concluded this description with rapid
tempos on “einem fliegenden Adler” (“a flying eagle”),
the remaining “Wesen” or “beasts” were enumerated in
their positions surrounding the heavenly throne. At this point the additional
soloists are first heard as part of a quartet in the parts of the beasts. The
soprano, mezzo-soprano, and tenor were joined by Pesendorfer in the quartet as
Kaimbacher’s emotive tenor called memorably the holiness of the Lord. For
the remaining portions of the prologue the Chorus and Saint John, alternating
with the other soloists, introduced the substance of the Book with its seals,
the concept of sacrifice, and the preparations to open the Book and announce
its revealed wisdom.
Just as the first mention of the Book in the Prologue was heralded by the
accompaniment of the organ, Part I and Part II of Schmidt’s work are both
introduced by extended organ solos. As each of the first six seals of the Book
is opened in Part I, a symbolic figure occurs together with descriptive events
on the earth. The Grant Park Chorus, first as a whole and then divided into
groups, communicated in their well-rehearsed performance the fate of
individuals as the firs two seals released the white and red horses of the
apocalypse. Male and female groups of the Chorus conveyed the violent ravages
and the intense suffering as a result of war and its devastations.
Künzli’s moving summary that “Hölle folgte ihm nach”
(“Hell followed after him”) brought a transition to the third seal
or the black horseman of hunger. Pesendorfer’s solo in this role
introduced a duet for mother and daughter. Ms. Lienbacher and Ms. Ratzenböck
sang here with especially effective, merging vocal lines, so that the pain and
desperation of human needs were touchingly communicated. After Saint John
declared the fourth seal opened, and the pale horse of death was announced, the
two male survivors sang that in death they are brothers. Kaimbacher and
Pesendorfer performed with fervor their individual parts of the complementary
duet which coalesced in a Biblical quote that found both voices perfectly
matched. For the earthquake associated with opening the sixth seal toward the
close of Part I both Chorus and orchestra swelled into a crescendo ending on
“O wer kann da bestehen?” (“O who will be able to
The organ solo at the start of Part II has a more ominous tone than in Part
I with, as played here, somewhat more pointed individual notes. In the
introduction to Saint John’s announcement of the seventh and final seal
being opened Künzli lavished emotional effects on his long monologue detailing
the original battle between angels and dragon. Orchestral effects were
carefully matched to vocal lines so that trumpet and percussion led to a
message of judgment. The solo quartet “Wehe euch! Das vierte Wehe”
(“Woe! The fourth sorrow”), as introduced by the bass and
integrating the other voices skillfully, warns of the celestial lights being
extinguished in preparation for the time of judgment. From here to the
conclusion of Schmidt’s work the Chorus shares the sung pronouncements
with Saint John and with the voice of the Lord. Saint John declares now that a
second Book was brought forth, the “Buch des Lebens” or Book of
Life, in which are listed those who will be saved. As Künzli reiterated this
line with emotional emphasis on “Leben,” the series of repetitions
commences which echo the start of the work. His further, emphatic treatment of
the prophecy of “Worte” (“words”), as here most
appropriate, led to a resolution with the Chorus on the word
“Amen!” Chicagoans are fortunate to have heard performances of such
commitment of Schmidt’s Book with Seven Seals. These concerts by
distinguished soloists and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus under Kalmar
will surely rank among the finest presentations of this masterpiece.