Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.