Recently in Performances
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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
23 Dec 2011
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera House
Perhaps it’s no accident that Graham Vick’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg returns to the Royal Opera House for the Christmas season. Red, green, gold, sumptuous colours that warm a long, grey evening.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a comedy and here’s it’s
presented as the ultimate up market Xmas show. It’s extremely enjoyable, and
an ideal introduction to the opera experience. Richard Wagner, though, gets
Sir John Tomlinson is a definite reason for catching this revival. The days
when he could sing Hans Sachs are past, but he creates an unusually vivid Veit
Pogner. Tomlinson plays Pogner powerfully, as if he was a former Sachs, whose
reasons for committing his daughter to this bizarre marriage make sense. He’s
dedicating his daughter to art, not too shabby politics. Luckily for him, and
for Eva, Walter von Stolzing arrives in the nick of time. Indeed, Beckmesser
very nearly persuades the Meistersingers to drive Walter out of town. Things
could so easily have turned out quite differently. Die Meistersinger von
Nürnberg may be comic, but it evolves against a background of tension. At
any moment anarchy could breakout. Unless the Meistersingers adapt, they might
Wagner builds tension into the music. The Meistersingers sing at cross
purposes, and in the riot scene, the turbulence of the chorus evokes the
violence which comes with all revolution. That’s why the Night Watchman sings
“bewahrt euch vor Gespenstern und Spuk, dass kein böser Geist eu’r Seel’
beruck’!” The music for the apprentice boys is energetic, a warning for
those who remember Wagner’s protosocialism. This time, however, no dangerous
ideas. We’re treated to a good natured Meistersinger, where the
apprentices dance with little vigour, and the blows Sachs throws at David have
no menace. Antonio Pappano received the longest applause of all on the first
night,. Most audiences can relate better to joyful Romaticism in music better
than to Wagner-on-edge, so it’s understandable. He clearly enjoys the
life-affirming elements in this opera, which come over well. Christmas is not
the right time for radical ideas, and this is not a production that would
Graham Vicks’s riot scene is classic because it’s so well imagined. The
townsfolk pop out of windows and hang precariously upside down over the stage.
One man looks like he’s about to lose his footing (this happened in earlier
productions, so it was planned) In their nightshirts the townsfolk look like
escapees from an asylum, a good idea but not developed. The Festweise
scene is masterfully blocked, so each guild is clearly defined. I liked
the acrobats in the background, too. But these scenes aren’t for
entertainment but emphasize the traumas in Nürnberg’s past.
Because John Tomlinson so dominates the first Act, Wolfgang Koch’s Hans
Sach might be overlooked, but Koch understands the role. Sachs is an observer,
who stands apart from the crowd, and who thinks before he acts. Koch’s Sachs
is sung with sensitivity, and would be very effective in a more perceptive
production which focuses on Sachs and not the scenery. Koch looks and sounds
younger than the other Meistersingers and is rather more lyrical than Simon
O’Neill’s Walther von Stolzing who is more hoch dramatisch than
true Heldentenor. This was the best performance I’ve ever heard from
O’Neill, and he was good, but it’s a part better suited to a more luminous
timbre. O’Neill was, however, a good match for Emma Bell’s Eva, joyfully
created though perhaps more Italianate than Wagnerian. In a cheerful,
non-idiomatic production like this, it didn’t matter, and they conveyed the
story. Popular favourite, Toby Spence, sang a very good David, but he’s more
upper class than roustabout.
(L-R) Peter Coleman-Wright as Beckmesser, Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs, Heather Shipp as Magdalene, Simon O’Neill as Walther and Emma Bell as Eva
It was good to see many teenagers in the audience, another good reason for
having a show like this in holiday time. Last week, David Chandler took his
daughter to Kurt Weill’s Magical Night at the Linbury, (reviewed
here) and she was ecstatic. We can give kids toys anytime, but the gift of
a magical experience is beyond compare. And the same goes for adults, new to
opera. This Meistersinger may not tell us much about the opera or
about Wagner, but it’s an excellent night out.