Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
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
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
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.