Recently in Performances
At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme
each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his
contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years
The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.
An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.
On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.
This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.
English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare
The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San
Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints
When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda
Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk &
Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.
This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
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.