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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.

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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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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.

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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.

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English National Opera: Tosca

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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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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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

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The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.



Ioan Holender Farewell Concert
28 Sep 2011

Ioan Holender Farewell Concert

What better way for the long-reigning director of the Vienna State Opera, Ioan Holender, to celebrate the end of his time in the post than with a lengthy gala featuring such stars as Gergely Németi, Roxana Constantinescu, Krassimira Stoyanova, and Keith Ikaia-Purdy?

Ioan Holender Farewell Concert

Plácido Domingo, Barbara Frittoli, Waltraud Meier, Leo Nucci, Anna Netrebko and other artists

Deutsche Grammophon 001491309 [2DVDs]

$27.99  Click to buy

Perhaps some will say, a better way would be to also have Plácido Domingo, Leo Nucci, Anna Netrebko, and Thomas Hampson, among others, and sure enough, they appear as well. Actually, the mix of performers — from the most famous names to those of aspiring stars — makes the almost four hours two-disc set of the recorded gala distinguishable from the usual gala fare strictly limited to only the most well-established of performers. Nonetheless, Deutsche Grammophon could not resist giving the set the oddly-phrased subtitle of “A Benefit Gala with Opera World Stars.”

In terms of quality, the four hours steer a very erratic course. A listless Rienzi overture opens the evening, with Zubin Mehta the first of many conductors to pick up the baton in a sort of “conductor relay race” to the podium. The editing makes it impossible to tell if the performers are presented in their true order of appearance. Antonio Pappano has the baton next in the DVD, with Plácido Domingo signing “Winterstürme.” The great tenor is not quite warmed up, but the audience is grateful for his presence anyway. For the next several selections on disc one, the gala slowly slides into effortful mediocrity, with a not very impressive Nadia Krasteva lighting no fires in “Stride la vampa,” and the cellists seen behind her appearing to be a nod away from falling asleep at their instruments. Bertrand de Billy leads a truly unfortunate Hoffmann sextet, with intonation differences reaching Schoenbergian proportions. Two selections from Così pass unmemorably in the staid professionalism of Michael Schade and Barabara Frittoli, although Angelika Kirchshlager tries to liven things up. An unquestionably elegant tenor, Ramón Vargas simply doesn’t have the tenor juice to make a chestnut like Giordano’s “Amor ti vieta” really ring out, though he is in good form later for Roméo’s “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!.”

The first glimpse of gala greatness comes when Soile Isokoski appears, with the fresh choice of Agathe’s aria from Freischtuz. With pure tone and security of intonation, this singer, who can be an unprepossessing presence, shows what true artistry can do. Thomas Quastoff also offers an unorthodox selection, from Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, but the pleasure in hearing this rare but quite appealing aria is qualified by concern over the baritone’s difficulty with staying in tune, especially in his lower range. Waltraud Meier almost matches Isokoski’s success with an inspired “Mild und leise,” and there are very professional turns by Leo Nucci, Thomas Hampson and Diana Damrau, who closes the first disc. Of the lesser known names on disc one, the best impression is made by tenor Saimir Pirgu, who gets one of the very few Puccini selections of the night, taking on Rinuccio’s aria from Gianni Schicchi. He just needs to secure his very top notes to have a chance at reaching “Opera World Star” status.

Disc two starts off with Vargas and then an ensemble from Die Frau ohne Schatten that rivals the earlier Hoffmann selection for dismaying group intonation. This continues to be a problem with duets from Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer (“O sink herneider”) and Angela Denoke and Stephen Gould (from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt). The dependable Ferrucio Furlanetto brings his King Philippe — yes, in French — to the stage. It is a great piece, but at 10 mostly somber minutes, perhaps not the best gala choice. Johan Botha seems to be a Vienna favorite, as the response to his secure but unaffecting “In fernem Land” is much more energetic than his performance. That same audience — supposedly sophisticated — interrupts Anna Netrebko’s Manon showpiece twice with applause, in the same places where audiences always do. The rest of the disc two gathers steam, with Natalie Dessay, Piotr Bezcala, and Simon Keenlyside providing real star power.

Leo Nucci leads the not unexpected finale of the closing ensemble from Falstaff, after a brief speech from the guest of honor (who also opens the program with some words). Interestingly, the preceding two selections, at least as seen on the DVD, seem to throw a dark shadow on Holender’s perspective as he leaves this major position. First we have Loge teasing the Gods as they lose their power without the golden apples in Das Rhiengold, and then Keenlyside’s Macbeth, saying farewell to “Pietà, rispetto, onore.” Intention or coincidence? Only Holender can say.

Although as seen on DVD the gala evening cannot be called a huge success, this recording has value as a document of the state of today’s “World Opera Stars” and as a place to catch a handful of very fine performances — with “rispetto” and “onore” most deservedly going to Soile Isokoski.

Chris Mullins

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