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Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
30 Aug 2011
BBC Prom 58: Mendelssohn’s Elijah
Droughts, deserts, false gods, angels, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and a firestorm. Plenty of drama in the Bible. In BBC Prom 58, Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players made a good case for period performance of Mendelssohn’s magnificent Elijah op 70.
Elijah is a remarkable statement of faith. Graven images have
distracted the people of Zion, and Elijah shows them the true God. Christians
have monopolized the oratorio, especially in Britain, but fundamentally
Elijah reflects something even deeper in Mendelssohn’s spirit.
Although Mendelssohn was a devout Lutheran, he never denied nor denigrated his
Jewish roots. Elijah’s God isn’t Jesus but the stern God of the Old
Testament. St Paul was written to please Mendelssohn’s father, but
Elijah springs from deeper sources. This gives the oratorio an
undercurrent of grit which draws from the composer some of his most passionate,
powerful music. No wonder Berlioz and Wagner were jealous and did all they
could to destroy Mendelssohn’s reputation. The damage lasts still. One
antidote is to listen toElijah and think about how he conveys its
Paul McCreesh conducted the Gabrieli Consort and Players. This was an
inspired choice, as McCreesh and his orchestra are specialists in period
performance, and have attempted to recreate something close to the 1847
Birmingham premiere of this work, so we can imagine its impact at the time. The
early music sensibility is useful, too, because it brings Elijah
closer to Handel and Bach, who were Mendelssohn’s own musical gods, and
who are quoted in the score. The leaner period sound may be why the oratorio
initially appealed not to Establishment High Church tastes but to the rise of
the middle class in early Victorian times. McCreesh’s decision to
“reclaim” Elijah from very Late Victorian practice is significant,
for it connects to a time when Nonconformist Dissent was part of British
Christianity, and choral performance an expression of such social values.
Because this Elijah goes back to the fundamentals, it’s strikingly
“modern” in the sense that it confronts dilemmas we still face today, like
identity, beliefs and integrity.
Orchestrally, this BBC Proms performance was wonderful. Instruments like
serpents, originally used in warfare to scare the enemy — baroque fantasy put
to practical use. Slide trumpets which still sound natural and relatively
unpitched. Goatskin timpani. The Royal Albert Hall Organ restricted to period
stops and pipes. Two ophicleides augment the brass, and a magnificent
contrabass ophicleides, known as the “Monstre” for obvious reasons. This
period sensibility is not merely historic affectation. In the Bible, Elijah is
a wild man of the desert who stands up to those who worship Baal, who seems to
represent consumption and corruption. The orchestra thus connects to Elijah’s
spartan defiance, and thus has more authenticity than more elaborate
instrumentation. Furthermore, McCreesh’s musicians play as if they’re
evoking ancient Hebrew instruments. Mendelssohn probably wouldn’t have heard
Jewish liturgical music, but he had observant relatives, and was musician
enough to intuit how instruments depicted in Bible pictures might have sounded.
Mendelssohn is reaffirming his Jewish heritage discreetly but firmly. McCreesh
and the Gabrieli’s prove the power of period practice.
The singers of the Gabrieli Consort were augmented by the forces of the
Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, with whom they’ve co-operated before, and four youth
choirs. Exceptionally precise singing — not a word muffled, despite the size
of the Royal Albert Hall. Conducting this many singers at once is difficult,
but here they were so well drilled, that no-one fluffed an entry. Perfect
co-ordination, but even better, great enthusiasm and committment.
Perhaps it’s because the music is so “singable”. When the people call
out to Baal, their calls are met by silence. These singers seem to listen!
Blocks of male and female voices alternate and interweave. “Thanks be to God!
He laveth the thirsty Land!”, the voices sing. Mendelssohn builds into the
wild cross-currents images of wind and rain, thundering into parched ground.
There are so many exquisite passages, it’s hard to pick out the most
beautiful. “He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps” for
example, where the words “slumbers not nor sleeps” repeat in lovely tender
patterns. Such delicacy from such a huge chorus. The final “and then shall
your light shine forth” was a glorious apotheosis. Elijah has ascended to
Heaven in a fiery chariot.
Although the five soloists naturally take the foreground, it’s the
magnificent background of the choruses that make Elijah the monument
it is. In this Prom, there were three hundred voices, creating a wonderful
opulent sheen. These are the “people of Israel” after all, for whom Elijah
sacrifices himself, so it’s utterly appropriate. Poised between soloists and
massed choir are sub-groups like the double quartet, the quartet and an
exceptionally good trio. “Lift up thine eyes to the mountains”, this group
sings “whence cometh help”. They’re so clean and pure, they really do
sound like angels.
Of these 300 voices, 181 are the voices of children from four youth choirs
who participate in the Gabrieli’s Youth Coaching Project. This is an
important part of the Gabrieli mission. Even though young voices break, by
being involved, the singers learn the physical joy of singing and appreciate
music better whatever they might go on to do in life. Singing is a community
experience, and enhances life. These young voices are so well trained that
there’s no lapse in standards. Indeed, their freshness adds excitement to the
Simon Keenlyside sing Elijah. This is the key part, on which the whole
oratorio hangs, and is the only one treated as a single “character”.
Keenlyside is good, though he’s not quite as forceful as Terfel,
Fischer-Dieskau or Goerne, but he’s clear and purposeful. His recitatives,
“It is enough, O Lord” and “O Lord, I have laboured in vain” could have
been more heart rending, because they show Elijah as human and vulnerable, but
Keenlyside keeps them “English” and understated, which is perhaps more apt
in an English context. Rosemary Joshua sings the soprano parts and Sarah
Connolly the mezzo parts. Both were very convincing, though I’m imprinted
with Gwyneth Jones and Janet Baker. Robert Murray had some tricky moments but
was better in the Obadiah passages. Jonty Ward sang the Youth. It’s a
beautifully written sequence where Mendelssohn contrasts the anxiety of the
crowd with the pure, ringing tones of the Youth rising from silence. “It is
nothing”, he sings three times. Then Elijah begs God for a sign, and the
Youth beholds a cloud rising from the waters. It’s the incoming hurricane.
The long drought is broken. The music explodes, like a storm, the choirs
singing in tumult.
All BBC Proms are broadcast online, on demand and internationally for seven
days after the live performance, and on subsequent occasions. To access the
broadcast of this Prom 58, Mendelssohn Elijah, please follow this link. Please also
visit the Gabrieli Consort website, where
there’s a lot about the performance and those to come (Poland and
Mendelssohn’s own Leipzig Gewandhaus on 16th September). A privately-funded
recording is in the offing — for details read the Gabrieli Consort site.