Recently in Performances
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[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’.
18 Nov 2011
Lucia di Lammermoor, Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di
Lammermoor as its second production of the current season with Susanna
Phillips taking on the role of the heroine torn between romantic love and familial pressures.
In the performance seen René Barbera replaced the
indisposed tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in the lead role of Lucia’s lover
Edgardo. Baritone Quinn Kelsey sang the role of Lucia’s brother Lord
Enrico Ashton and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn the role of Raimondo. By
coincidence in this performance all four lead roles were assumed by past or
current members of the Ryan Opera Center. The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus
were conducted by Massimo Zanetti in his debut season.
During the overture soft light shone through a blue scrim which returned and
was varied at select points during the subsequent scenes. The woodwinds
contributed notably to a generally well led performance of the overture,
although the percussion was at times overly loud and pauses could be better
seamed together. The male voices in the initial scene created a strong
impression, one which remained consistent throughout the performance. As
Normanno sung with urgent appeal by baritone Paul Scholten leads a search party
to find Edgardo of Ravenswood, the male chorus members and Enrico join the
group. In his aria and cabaletta Quinn Kelsey gave a nuanced and authoritative
performance, clearly defining the venal character of Lucia’s brother.
“Cruda, funesta smania” was sung with a true sense of line and
color to emphasize words such as “horribile.” The
cabaletta “La pietade in suo favore” proceeded naturally
with well chosen vocal decoration, pitches sung flat to give additional
emphasis, and effective top notes. The voice of Mr. Van Horn, so vital later in
these performances, added here to the ensemble with chorus where his impressive
range gave memorable support to the effect of the group.
In the second scene of Act One Lucia and Edgardo make their initial
impressions, the heroine appearing before being joined by her outlawed suitor.
As she relates to her confidante Alisa the tale of violence between lovers in
an earlier generation of the Ravenswood clan, Lucia sings “Regnava nel
silenzio” and claims to have seen the spirit of the dead girl at the
fountain. As the narrative unfolds Ms. Phillips characterizes Lucia’s
emotions by modulating her voice between full and hushed. In the second half of
the scene showcasing the cabaletta “Quando rapito in estasi”
Phillips drew on especially secure vocal decoration, as she negotiated the aria
with all the repeats taken. Barbera’s Edgardo blended well with Phillips
in their subsequent duet, his voice taking on a more declamatory tone when he
sang solo lines. The exchange of rings and promise of future letters was sworn
by both singers with lyrically believable tenderness.
The second act of this production was performed after the first without
pause. Although the scene now changes to the interior of Enrico’s study,
a stylized tree from the previous act staged outdoors can now be seen as
through a window. The emotions attendant on that earlier scene drift into a
conflict accelerating between Lucia and her brother: he insists in the
confrontation here depicted that she marry Arturo Bucklaw in order to save the
Ashton family. Both singers showed a skilled application of bel canto
technique in their interaction, just as their dramatic outbursts were vocally
in character. Once Enrico leaves her alone, Lucia is comforted and advised by
Raimondo. Surely a highlight of this production was Mr. Van Horn’s
performance of the aria “Ah, cedi, cedi,” a piece which has so
often been cut from stagings of Lucia. Here Raimondo relies on humane
persuasion and a tone of religious authority to convince Lucia that she should
follow Enrico’s suggestion. Van Horn’s sonorous line and excellent
low notes were matched in his cabaletta by a lightness and rhythmic sensitivity
where noticeable articulation led to an impressively dramatic close. In the
final scene of Act Two with all the principals on the stage the bridal couple
is prepared for the wedding ceremony in festive attire. In assuming the role of
Arturo Bucklaw Bernard Holcomb brought a good sense of diction and legato
phrasing to his lines. Once the true beloved Edgardo reappeared, the sextet was
performed with uniform commitment and individual voices soaring at appropriate
moments. As Edgardo cursed Lucia’s perfidy the act concluded in a well
staged ensemble. Van Horn’s thrilling calls of “Pace” sounded
ever more futile as the enmity between Enrico and Edgardo predominated to the
Lyric Opera’s production of Lucia includes the scene outside the tower
of Wolf’s Crag and hence divides Act Three into a trio of significant
parts. In the first of these identified traditionally with the location Edgardo
and Enrico confront each other on the grounds of the Ravenswood family estate.
As they sang the duet (“Qui del padre ancora respira”) both Kelsey
and Barbera chose decoration judiciously and allowed their characters to be
defined by dramatic technique and a firm sense of legato. The growing
rage between the two men and their assignation for a duel in the final scene
helped clarify the plot and presents strong arguments for including the scene
regularly in stagings of the opera. In the second scene the two major arias
were sung with a memorable sense of integration into the dramatic flow. During
the wedding festivities Raimondo bursts in to announce that Lucia has murdered
her husband Arturo (“Dalle stanze ove Lucia”). Van Horn’s
intonation in the aria expressed his horror at the discovery, just as his
delivery of “infelice” followed by splendid top notes communicated
Lucia’s state of madness to the revelers. When the heroine appears at the
top of a precipitous staircase to sing the mad scene (“Il dolce
suono”) Ms. Phillips acted and sang as one possessed. The effect of her
fluid, secure delivery of the runs, trills, and roulades in this vocal
challenge gave her Lucia the freedom to express visions and emotions in
movement as well. Her ghostly singing of high notes pianissimo, punctuated with
pitches delivered and held flat to enhance the sense of instability, added to
this interpretation of a complex mental state. In the final scene of the opera
Edgardo awaits Lucia’s brother in order to fight the duel that was agreed
upon in the first part of this act. Mr. Barbera’s stylish delivery of the
famous tenor aria (“Fra poco a me ricovero”) showed a supple
approach with a welcome ring to high notes, as he ended the piece by taking the
opportunity for introspective singing piano. When he realizes that Lucia has
died and witnesses her funeral procession, Barbera inflected his cabaletta with
wrenching emotion before stabbing himself to join his beloved in death.
Click here for a photo gallery and other information regarding this production.