Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.



Gustav Mahler c. 1907 [Color enhanced photo by Armando Bravi courtesy of International Gustav Mahler Society]
30 Sep 2011

Mahler, Royal Festival Hall

My response to much of this and last year’s Mahler anniversary bonanza has been to stay away: certainly not out of antipathy, nor out of boredom, nor on account of any other negative reaction to the music of a composer whom I admire as greatly as ever, but simply because there are too many unnecessary performances of that music on offer.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no.10: I. ‘Adagio’; Das Lied von der Erde

Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano); Stefan Vinke (tenor); Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Lorin Maazel. Royal Festival Hall, London, Thursday, 29 September 2011.

Above: Gustav Mahler c. 1907 [Color enhanced photo by Armando Bravi courtesy of International Gustav Mahler Society]


Whilst always interested in hearing great or potentially interesting Mahlerians, I simply have no need to hear Maestro x conduct orchestra y in a run-of-the-mill Mahler Symphony no.z. Hearing the symphonies (alas, bar the Tenth) and song-cycles (bar some of the Wunderhorn songs) from the Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, and Pierre Boulez, in Berlin, in April 2007, was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my musical life. When the Philharmonia announced its 2011 Mahler cycle under Lorin Maazel, my enthusiasm was tempered. Nevertheless, I have heard good things, from a variety of sources, many of which I respect greatly, as the cycle has progressed. It therefore seemed time to experience Maazel’s Mahler for myself. On this showing, I am afraid, it emerges as barely preferable to that of Valery Gergiev, the miscast conductor of another (!) recent London cycle.

The opening work, or rather part of a work, the ‘Adagio’ from the Tenth Symphony was as unbearable as Gergiev’s, albeit in rather different ways. At least Gergiev rushed through his equally micromanaged account; I wonder whether anyone has taken this movement so slowly, whether individually or as part of a complete symphonic performance. Maazel’s reading actually opened promisingly, the viola line tremulous in a good way, suggestive, if we dare follow so Romantically autobiographical a route, of the failing heartbeat more often associated, dubiously or otherwise, with the Ninth Symphony. Thereafter, torpor set in. I have nothing against a daringly slow tempo, but Maazel proved quite incapable of sustaining it, at least meaningfully. Whatever the truth of the minutes on the clock, the music sounded as if it were taken at half-speed, and worse still, a phrase at a time, often with meaningless pauses inserted between those phrases. Worse still again, almost every subdivision of every beat was visibly and, more to the point, audibly, conducted, sapping Mahler’s music of any life. The music collapsed, less under its own (undeniable) weight than under the conductor’s shallowness: there was not even the slightest suggestion that it meant anything, whether or no that ‘anything’ might be put into words. It was, I am sad to say, inert and insufferable. Much of Mahler’s music might well be understood as haunted by death, but that means nothing without the impulse to life, here utterly lacking. Oh for the late Kurt Sanderling, Conductor Emeritus of the Philharmonia…

Maazel.gifLorin Maazel

Das Lied von der Erde was better, though mostly on account of the soloists’ contribution. The first movement, ‘Das Trinklied von Jammer der Erde’, did not initially show Stefan Vinke at his best. Intonational problems compounded the cruel, almost insupportable, challenge Mahler throws at the tenor in this song. However, Vinke improved considerably in the second and third stanzas, the latter evincing the heroism of a Siegfried – or rather the forlorn Mahlerian effort to return to a Siegfried, to which effort’s failure the only answer is to fill the wine glass and to drink oneself into oblivion. If only the conducting had not been so regimented; for Maazel, alas, exchanged torpor for brash brutality, the unifying feature being lifelessness born at least in part of that direction of every last subdivision of a beat. Even Sir Simon Rattle at his most tediously ‘interventionist’ rarely conducts quite so fussily. Once again, I longed for Sanderling, still more so for Bruno Walter, cited by Julian Johnson in his excellent pre-performance talk.

The frozen quality, both temporal and sonorous, of ‘Der Einsame im Herbst’ suited Maazel better, if only by default. Alice Coote surmounted a viral infection in a fine Lieder-singer’s account, equally attentive to words and line. The words ‘Mein Herz ist müde’ were imploring, touching almost beyond words. There was a true sense of this as a song, in which Maazel, mercifully, acted more as ‘accompanist’ than ‘conductor’. (I was again struck by the parallel with Rattle, who often emerges preferably when paying heed to a soloist.) ‘Von der Jugend’ emerged mechanically, but at least there was a Coppelia-sort of life to it, absent entirely during the first part of the concert. Vinke was on good form, by turns playful and nostalgic, doubtless benefiting from the reality that this song is much less of a vocal struggle. If both ‘Von der Jugend’ and ‘Von der Schönheit’ ultimately veered towards the neo-classical, failing to yield as Mahler should, then one could at least appreciate the pointing of the chinoiserie. Meaning in the latter, it must be said, seemed to hail entirely from Coote, not from the podium. Vinke once again showed some strain at the outset of ‘Der Trunkene im Frühling’, but settled reasonably into Siegfried-vein: his was not the subtlest reading, but it was for the most part well enough delivered. Leader Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay provided a delectable solo, but Maazel never proved more than efficient.

It was, then, something of a surprise to hear the baleful opening chords of ‘Der Abschied’ so resounding in menace, movingly responded to by Christopher Cowie’s excellent oboe solo. The problem was that this seemed to have come from nowhere. Mahler’s extraordinary finale needs to be approached, not implanted. One could draw solace that the music, at least to start with, moved fluently, but it rarely moved. Coote suffered a few moments where strain told, not least in a somewhat sour rendition of the words ‘die müden Menschen gehn heimwärts, um im Schlaf vergessnes Glück’, but more important were her palpable sincerity and textual understanding. The final blue light in the distance truly sounded as if it were such in eternity. With the best will in the world, however, it could not be said that her sensibility, even when ailing, was matched by Maazel, despite some fine woodwind playing (and an unfortunate, albeit brief, duet between flute and telephone). The laboured quality of the purely orchestral passages told their own story. Why, I could not help but wonder, did the Philharmonia not offer its Mahler cycle to a musician or to musicians better suited to the task?

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):