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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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

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.



Virgin Classics 19039
28 Sep 2011

Billy Budd at the Barbican

Among recent recordings of Britten’s opera Billy Budd, the recent release conducted by Daniel Harding has much to offer in terms of performance quality, interpretation, and also the quality of recording.

Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd, Op. 50

Nathan Gunn: Billy Budd; Ian Bostridge: Edward Vere; Jonathan Lemalu: Mr. Flint; Gidon Saks: John Claggart; Daniel Teadt: Donald; Neal Davies: Mr. Redburn; Andrew Kennedy: The Novice; Matthew Best: Dansker; Matthew Rose: Mr. Ratcliffe. London Symphony Chorus. London Symphony Orchestra. Conductor: Daniel Harding.

Virgin Classics 19039 [3CDs]

$29.99  Click to buy

Recorded live at the Barbican, London, between 5 and 9 December 2007, this performance involves a fine cast, led by Nathan Gunn as the title character and Ian Bostridge as Edward Vere, who stand out for their fine depictions of their characters in this work. Gunn has performed the role in various houses and brings to this recording the details of the character that both draw on his experience and also benefit from the clear direction Harding brings to this performance. The same can be said of Bostridge in the pivotal role of Captain Vere, whose memory of the story of Billy Budd serves as the frame for this opera, a Christ story by Herman Melville, which received dramatic shape in the libretto by Eric Crozier and E. M. Forster that serves as the basis for this intriguing score by Britten.

This particular recording of Billy Budd offers an evenly solid cast, in which the interplay between the characters emerges clearly. The solid delivery of the text through the sung voices conveys well the vocalizing Britten employed, such that the words come off clearly and, more importantly, the sense of the lines. Phrasing works well to allow the music to fit the libretto, such that the transition from Vere’s opening monologue and the scene that follows it (“Pull my bantams!” are equally clear. This transparent presentation of the score occurs throughout the recording, such that the culminating scene with Billy Budd in act 2, scene 3 is readily accessible, and the title character’s number “And farewell to ye, old Rights of Man!” is presented with the musical style and dramatic weight it deserves.

Beyond the performances of these two main figures, the other characters are well sung by fine performers. Gidon Saks offers a solid Claggart who conveys the character’s determination well, with Jonathan Lemalu giving good voice in his role as Mr. Flint, with these and the other principals supporting the drama well. They interact in the libretto with the characters Budd and Vere, who benefit from the strong performances of these singers. This also applies to the men of the London Symphony Chorus, who give voice to the crew of the ship throughout the opera, especially the choral music in the third scene of the first act and also the first scene of the second. The balanced, resonant sound is effective, with the rich choral textures serving as a contrast to the extended passages for solo voices.

That stated, the last part of act two is effective for various reasons, with the solid performances by Gunn and Bostridge standing out for their memorable portrayal of the roles of Budd and Vere. With Harding’s leadership, the resulting drama is borne out well in the pacing of the score as the work comes to its conclusion. The scenes unfold with appropriate musical sense and a thoughtful sense of phrasing, so that the text of the well-written libretto is always clear and prominent. This memorable reading is powerful in the intensity that emerges well in this live recording of Britten’s score, with the epilogue in Vere’s voice fitting appropriately onto the entire, impressive enterprise. Among the various recordings of Billy Budd currently available, it is good to have this reading, which brings a certain dynamic quality to the work.

The recording itself is spaciously recorded and issued on three discs, with a full libretto, along with a translation into French. The banding is useful in allowing for a sensible division of the work into the various parts of each scene, so that it finding specific passages is easy to do. More than that, the sound is uniformly clear and resonant, conveying well the live performances on which this release is based.

James L. Zychowicz

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