Recently in Performances
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
16 Dec 2011
Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall
Combining innate musicianship and superb technique, Anne Schwanewilms showed once again that she can run the emotional gamut from light-hearted joy to deep anguish in this flawless performance with pianist, Charles Spencer.
The songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn offered
Schwanewilms the opportunity to demonstrate a great range of characterisation
and dramatic situation, embracing intimacy and exuberance. She garnered a
surprising and delightful drollery in the opening ‘Um schlimme Kinder artig
zu machen’ (‘How to make naughty children behave’), her insouciant
‘cu-cuckoo’ ringing clear as a bell. Charles Spencer delivered the
accompaniment’s piquant chromatic inflections with a deft touch. The simple
folk-like ambience was sustained in the bucolic ‘Verlorne Müh’ (‘Wasted
effort’), as the shepherdess attempts to lure her mate, offering first to go
walking, then a ‘morsel’ from her basket and finally her heart. A glossy
tone and seamless, bel canto legato prevailed. I wondered whether that
this effortlessly fluency at times affected the clarity of diction; but the
German speaker accompanying me reassured me that Schwanewilms’ use of the
text was subtle but clear, and undoubtedly idiomatic.
In ‘Ablösung im Sommer’ (‘The changing of the summer guard’), the
cuckoo returned, this time evoked by the piano whose perpetuum mobile
signifies the evolutionary progression of the seasons — as the cuckoo sings
himself ‘to death’ and the nightingale assumes the mantle of summer’s
song-bearer. Both here and in the following ‘Ich ging mit Lust’ (‘I
walked joyfully’), Schwanewilms’ breath control was superb, enabling her to
shape extended rhapsodic lines; her velvet tone is a cloth of many colours, and
she captured the myriad hues of the natural world - the verdant softness of
the ‘green wood’, the silky sheen of the moon’s’ charming, sweet
Liszt’s setting of Hugo’s ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ permitted a brief
excursion into the French language, and Schwanewilms expressively and
convincingly responded to the text, before returning to her native tongue for
lieder from Schiler’s Wilhelm Tell, songs in which Liszt evokes the
Alpine landscape with grandeur and passion. The grassy lake in ‘Der
Fischerknabe’ (‘The fisherboy’) shimmered stilly, but as the waters lap
around his breast and call from the depth, increasingly impetuous scalic runs
in the piano conveyed the potency of his ‘bliss of delight’. ‘Horn
calls’ discreetly underpinned the beautifully resonant vocal line in ‘Der
Hirt’ (‘The shepherd’), and the juxtapositions of major and minor
tonalities enhanced the warm, tender ache in the voice. The more tempestuous
‘Der Alpenjäger’ (‘The alpine hunstman’), in which thunderous
tremblings accumulate, climaxed with a striking piano postlude. An intense and
impassioned setting of Heine’s ‘Loreley’ brought the Lisztian sequence to
a close, and enabled Schwanewilms once again to demonstrate her consummately
controlled delivery of narrative.
Four more songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn followed after the
interval. ‘Scheiden und Meiden’ (‘Farewell and Parting’) presents a
broader emotional and dramatic canvas; the first stanza depicts the breathless,
theatrical departure of three horsemen who gallop through the gate beneath the
beloved’s watchful gaze, while second strikes a more poignant note, exploring
the pain and finality of departure and death. The power and precision of
Schwanewilms’s climactic high notes in the first part contrasted with the
final farewells, 'Ade! Ade!’, which she delivered in a loving, almost
The cuckoo and nightingale both returned for ‘Lob des hohen Verstandes’
(‘In praise of high intellect’), this time competing to be the prize
songster in a musical contest adjudicated by a donkey. Schwanewilms relished
the individual ‘voices’ given to each ‘character’, and concluded with
an alarmingly realistic ass’s bray! After the gentle ‘Rheinlegendechen’
(‘Little Rhine Legend’), in which the atmospheric rocking of the piano
accompaniment perfectly captured the lapping waters as they flow timelessly to
the ocean, in the final song from the sequence, ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten
blasen’(‘Where the splendid trumpets sound’) Schwanewilms displayed her
lustrous, rich tone to full effect, signifying a transition from the whimsical
naivety of Mahler’s early songs to the complex emotional profundities of the
composer’s five Rückert Lieder.
Here, Schwanewilms and her accompanist rose to majestic heights of
musicianship. The contemplative intimacy of ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’
(‘If you love for beauty’) was particularly stunning. Schwanewilms can
produce an effortless, floating line, spinning out a high thread of sound,
endlessly and ethereally until, almost weightlessly, the thrillingly tender
pianissimo disperses into the air. She balances eloquence and grace
with deep affective insight, as was supremely apparent in a spell-binding
rendition of ‘Um Mitternacht’ (‘At midnight’). Here, the sustained
focus of her lower range was in evidence, the controlled and crafted phrases
indicating the valiant endurance of the protagonist. The final song, ‘Ich bin
der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (‘I am lost to the world) probed expressive
depths, closing with a spine-chilling piano coda; the long silence which
subsequently embraced performers and audience alike was a testament to the epic
scale of the emotions evoked and communicated.
Schwanewilms seem to have it all: unfailingly precise intonation, a
polished, gleaming sound, almost superhuman breath control. She also has
considerable stage presence and self-assurance: utterly in command of the voice
and the material, she revealed a profound understanding of these songs while
retaining a sense of freshness and spontaneity. The communication between
singer and pianist, and with the audience, was sincere and generous. No wonder
the applause was rapturous.
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Um schlimme Kinder artig zu
machen; Verlorne Müh; Ablösung im Sommer; Ich ging mit Lust.
Liszt — Oh! quand je dors; Lieder aus Schillers ‘Wilhelm Tell’; Die
Mahler — From Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Scheiden und Meiden; Lob des
hohen Verstandes; Rheinlegendchen; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. Five