Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Gustav Mahler
14 Aug 2011

Prom 32: Brahms and Mahler

Brahms’s Violin Concerto and Mahler’s Das klagende Lied did not seem to be the most obvious bedfellows — there has been some rather peculiar programming at this year’s Proms — and even after further consideration, the only real connection I could muster was that they were written at the same time: the concerto in 1878, the cantata between 1878 and 1880.

Brahms — Violin Concerto in D major, op.77; Mahler — Das klagende Lied (original version)

Christian Tetzlaff (violin); Melanie Diener (soprano); Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano); Stuart Skelton (tenor); Christopher Purves (baritone); Theodore Beeny, Augustus Bell, Timothy Fairbairn, Thomas Featherstonehaugh, Matthew Lloyd-Wilson, Oluwatimilehin Otudeko (trebles); BBC Singers (chorus master: Stephen Jackson); Edward Gardner (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, 7 August 2011.

Above: Gustav Mahler


At any rate, Christian Teztlaff gave a fine account of the former, though he was not always matched by Edward Gardner’s conducting, which was mostly unobjectionable — more than can be said for many examples — but not especially rich in insight. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was generally on good, if not infallible, form, its first movement contribution more lyrical than stentorian. (A mobile telephone provided unwanted interruption during the first exposition.) Teztlaff’s solo performance was intensely committed, fiercely dramatic, and unwavering in intonation, the cadenza (Joachim’s) providing both intimacy and direction. The opening of the ensuing coda proved splendidly autumnal, though its conclusion was arguably rushed by Gardner. Unwelcome applause intervened prior to a slow movement in which Tetzlaff generally acted as first among serenade-like equals, the spirit of Mozart undeniably present. Though the opening woodwind solos, especially Richard Simpson’s oboe, were well taken, there was a sense that they might have sung still more freely had Gardner moulded them less. That is a minor criticism, however, for Tetzlaff’s sweet-toned rendition ensured that the heart strings would be tugged where necessary, without the slightest hint of undue manipulation. Gardner, to his credit, held the audience at bay during the brief pause before the finale. Rhythms were well pointed here, though there were times when the orchestra felt a little driven. Tetzlaff’s musicianship and virtuosity were never in doubt; it would be good to hear him in this concerto with a more experienced Brahmsian, such as Bernard Haitink, Kurt Masur, or Sir Colin Davis. If anything even better was his poised, thoughtful, richly expressive encore account of the Gavotte en rondeau from Bach’s E major Partita. Not for the first time, the smallest of forces seemed to project better than a typical symphony orchestra in the problematic acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall.

Gardner fashioned a performance of Das klagende Lied that was more ‘operatic’ than benefits the music. Or, to put it another way, it concentrated on highlighting of certain textual ‘incident’ and artificially whipped-up excitement in a stop-and-start way that recalled Sir Georg Solti (though I am not sure whether Solti conducted this particular work). At least, though, we could hear vibrato-laden strings, a relief after the horror tales of Sir Roger Norrington’s recent Ninth Symphony. The orchestral introduction to ‘Waldmärchen’ was somewhat hesitant at first, and then, as if to compensate, was fiercely driven. It eventually settled, but the movement as a whole did not. The second stanza, though well presented vocally and orchestrally, simply dragged, Gardner seemingly finding it impossible to alight upon a just tempo. Uncertain brass slightly marred the brothers’ entry into the forest, though tenor Stuart Skelton gave a good sense of Mahler as balladeer. When, during the final two stanzas, Mahler’s Wagnerian inheritance — Gardner seemed previously to have done his utmost to make the composer sound closer to Verdi! — inevitably came to the fore, whether through harmony, instrumentation, and vocal line, it was almost a sense of too little, too late. Anna Larsson, a late substitution for Ekaterina Gubanova, nevertheless proved a wonderfully rich mezzo soloist.

Intimations of the First and Second Symphonies in the introduction to ‘Der Spielmann’ came across clearly — how could they not? — but, in Gardner’s hands, there was something unnecessarily four-square to the phrasing. Christopher Purves, however, proved plaintive indeed upon the words ‘Dort ist’s so lind und voll von Duft, als ging ein Weinen durch die Luft!’, even though the pacing now had become unduly distended. The first entry of the off-stage band sounded splendid in itself, but Gardner struggled — and failed — to keep it together with the ‘main’ orchestra. There were, happily, no such problems later on. Tempi here and in the concluding ‘Hochzeitsstück’ veered towards the comatose, however, interspersed with ‘compensating’ rushed passages. What should sound wide-eyed in its staggering youthful ambition and accomplishment tended merely to sprawl. (Applause again intervened between the second and third movements.) Choral diction was very good throughout, though it would have done no harm to have had a larger chorus. Treble voices touched in their fragility, helping to prove once again that it is this original version of Das klagende Lied that has the superior claim to performance. I cannot begin to understand David Matthews’s programme note claim that the revised two-part version is ‘incontrovertibly tighter and arguably more effective’. If the effect were somewhat sprawling, that was the fault of Gardner’s performance, not of the work itself, which is a much better piece than this evening’s audience may have been led to believe.

Mark Berry

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):