Recently in Performances
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
05 Nov 2011
La sonnambula, Royal Opera
Bellini’s La sonnambula does not have the most gripping or
convincing of opera plots: a young girl sleepwalks into a stranger’s room, where she is discovered by her fiancé; disbelieving her pleas of innocence, he jilts her and plans to wed another; but, she is vindicated when she is spied on a nocturnal wander, and the lovers are reconciled.
wafer-thin text is more than compensated for by the composer’s ravishing
score and reams of gorgeous melody.
Jihoon Kim as Alessio
It’s a simple tale and needs a light touch. Sadly, in this revival of
Marco Arturo Marelli’s 2002 production, both the presumptuous direction
and Daniel Oren’s sluggish tempi weigh down the proceedings, and the
result is narcotic.
Not trusting the music itself to provide depth and insight, Marelli has
given the opera a ‘psychological makeover’. Thus, the Swiss village
setting is replaced by an Alpine sanatorium (intended, we are told, to suggest
the world of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain) where Elvino
– no longer a local landlord but a composer – has been undergoing
treatment since the traumatic death of his mother. Bellini’s orphaned
maid, Amina, to whom Elvino is betrothed, is now a waitress at the sanatorium.
So, we have no gentle pastoral woods and byways, rather a sublime
mountain-scape panorama, visible through vast atrium windows; sublime, that is,
until an avalanche crashes through the windows and ruins the grand piano! And
the site of the opera’s only really dramatic event – the narrow
bridge over the rushing mill stream upon which the villager’s witness the
precarious exploits of the sleepwalking, thereby proving her innocence –
is also dispensed with. Instead, Anima has to navigate her way across the
wreckage of the piano. Nineteenth-century village yokels are replaced with
bustling nurses in crisp uniforms and wheelchair-bound patients sporting modern
evening dress. It’s enough to send us all to the asylum.
Michele Pertusi as Count Rodolfo and Eglise Gutierrez as Amina
But, bel canto is all about the singing, so perhaps some high-class
performances could rescue this production from insanity and inanity? Sadly, our
Elvino, Spanish tenor Celso Albelo, could not provide the stature and presence
required. While his diction was good and his tone sweet and pure, some
incredible high notes and considerable vocal agility could not compensate for a
total lack of charm. Albelo’s acting was leaden, and he needs to use his
face more expressively to ensure a fully convincing sense of style.
As Amina, Eglise Gutiérrez demonstrated a beautifully tender
pianissimo, floating, delicate upper notes, and an expressive vibrato.
Crucially, however, her Italian is very poor, and occluded diction destroyed
the inherent line of the melodies whose elegance is so intimately rooted in the
language. Gutiérrez also adopted an overly fussy approach to the demanding
coloratura. The florid passages stretched her technique to its limits, and she
simply didn’t have the notes, especially in the final aria, in which she
celebrates her lover’s return. Gutiérrez wasn’t helped by
Marelli’s decision to bring the curtain down at the very moment she
wakes, swap her demure, white nightgown for a plunging, scarlet velvet gown,
and force her to stand on a table to deliver this fiendish number. With soloist
and conductor wildly adrift, it made for an anticlimactic ending.
The rest of the cast were solid. Elena Xanthoudakis did a good job of
conveying Lisa’s bitter jealousy, and mastered the stratospheric
pyrotechnics (though why is she costumed as a lusty barmaid?); and as Count
Rodolfo, Italian bass-baritone Michele Pertusi was appropriately authoritative
and resonant. Elizabeth Sikora sang the role of Teresa, Amina’s foster
mother, most impressively, making much of her powerful interjections. Jihoon
Kim (Alessio), a Jette Parker Young Artist, and Elliot Goldie (Notary), a
member of the ROH chorus, were reliable in their minor roles.
Celso Albelo as Elvino and Elena Xanthoudakis as Lisa
Bellini composed the opera after a holiday in Como, where he admired the
landscape and simple pastoral lifestyles of the inhabitants; the folk music he
heard inspired him to create the beautiful, quite substantial, choruses which
abound in the score. The Royal Opera chorus were a bit ragged, but they did
have to endure Marelli’s silly stage antics; the instrumentalists of the
ROH orchestra fared better, despite Oren’s uninspiring, tentative
But, although Marelli’s sweeping scenic designs are pleasing to look
at, the production’s psychobabble is pretty unpalatable.