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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Statue of Cola Di Rienzo by Girolamo Masini, erected in 1877 near the Campidoglio
31 Jan 2012

Rienzi, OONY

For the first hour or so of the latest Opera Orchestra of New York venture, a concert performance of Wagner’s Rienzi, I often said to myself, This…isn’t so terrible.

Richard Wagner: Rienzi

Irene: Elisabete Matos; Adriano: Geraldine Chauvet; Rienzi: Ian Storey; Baroncelli: Jonathan Winell; Cecco del Vecchio: Shannon DeVine; Messenger of Peace: Emily Duncan-Brown. New York Choral Society and Opera Orchestra of New York, conducted by Eve Queler. Avery Fisher Hall. Performance of January 29.

Above: Statue of Cola Di Rienzo by Girolamo Masini, erected in 1877 near the Campidoglio


The orchestra sounds good, lovely rich string sounds that prefigure Tannhäuser, and coarse versions of Wagner’s endless modulation, continually reworking musical material to disguise his slight melodic gift. But it went on and on, brass choirs and brainless choruses, lovers rejoicing or denouncing, nobles sulking and plotting, and it was difficult to be sure which singer was playing which role; no synopsis was provided and, in Wagner’s libretto from a Bulwer Lytton novel about fourteenth-century Roman politics, only the three leads have any individuality.

Rienzi rates a single paragraph in Ernest Newman’s Wagner as Man and Artist. Newman loved Wagner, and his books are the best front-line tomes for background and analysis. He approved Wagner’s distinction between the “romantic operas” (up through Lohengrin) and the “music-dramas,” and when he said Wagner was the greatest opera composer who ever lived, he meant aside from the total-art-works in their higher realm. Yet even Newman (who has a ten-page warm spot for Das Liebesverbot) couldn’t come up with a kind word for Rienzi. “Almost offensive” and “a sheer failure of the imagination” are his dicta on the opera’s musical language. “It is astounding how few phrases there are in all these six hundred pages.” He grudgingly admits the “rampant horse-power vigor” of the overture (the only bit of the work we generally hear), then returns to its “vulgarity, its intolerable prolixity.”

I can’t disagree with this assessment, though Rienzi does offer the intriguing spectacle of youthful genius finding himself…and not quite getting there yet, just as Mozart does with Mitridate or La finta giardiniera. And, to be fair, Rienzi achieved just what its composer desired: A hit at its premiere, it remained popular for years, whereas Fliegende Hollander and Tristan took decades to enter the general repertory. From the chatter around me, I gathered that the house was full of last-minute attendees, lured by a spate of ten-dollar tickets, and that these newbies were happy with what they encountered, with the performance’s sheer busyness. Can opera lovers be so shallow that huge performing forces in colorful costumes and martial formation making a huge noise in a huge room, the power of mere spectacle, overwhelms refinement of taste? Well, you know the answer to that one.

William_Holman_Hunt_-_Rienz.gifRienzi Vowing to Obtain Justice for the Death of his Young Brother by William Holman Hunt

The Met last gave Rienzi in 1890; 122 years do not justify any call for its revival. Opera Orchestra of New York has given it in concert four times now, at least two more than curiosity could merit, but Eve Queler loves operas that have lots of moving parts, brasses scattered around the room, choral groups marching up and down the aisles, a long organ solo, and Rienzi gives her all that. Wagnerians used to sneer at Rienzi as “the greatest Meyerbeer opera,” but that is because they do not know Meyerbeer’s tuneful, elegant, dramatically pointed scores. The only thing Meyerbeerian about Rienzi is its grotesque length. (Queler cut it significantly, of course: An uncut Rienzi could last five hours easy.) Rienzi’s repetitiveness, the thrill in exploiting its slight substance, no one would deplore more than Meyerbeer, unless it be the mature Richard Wagner. Effects without causes—that’s what we have here.

The 27-year-old composer, weary of being an underpaid, over-indebted opera conductor and critic, wanted to demonstrate he was ready for hardball with the big boys. You know: Spontini, Auber, Halévy… Too, he wanted to write an opera on imperial themes to set pre-unified Germany afire, and he wanted to set it in Italy because … well, because. But he hadn’t yet visited Italy. So the local color of his medieval Rome is very beer hall. A loud beer hall. A loud, smoky, Germanic beer hall. Hitler is said to have adored Rienzi, but too much need not be made of that: He also adored Die Meistersinger and The Merry Widow.

So the orchestra was okay on this occasion, and the choruses rather good, but what of the singers? Ian Storey, a well-known mediocre Tristan, was in appalling shape, not an unforced tone all day. As no announcement of ill health was made, one must assume he just wasn’t up to the stentorian title role, though he sounded very sick and Queler may simply not have had a replacement handy. (Who learns this role any more? Why bother?) Geraldine Chauvet in the musico (i.e., trouser) role of Adriano Colonna—the only character in the opera with a dash of personality—had a far happier day and the applause to go with it. She sang the Prayer that is the only vocal number ever excerpted from Rienzi, and though not entirely in charge of it, produced fine phrases in a yearning style and got through her Wagner turns, the composer’s favorite ornamental figure, with credit. Elisabete Matos, who made a thrilling Met debut last year in Fanciulla del West but is better known in Europe for dramatic roles, sang Rienzi’s sister and Adriano’s girlfriend, Irene, a one-(very high)-note idealistic personality whose soprano must cut through the orchestra like a gleaming bread knife. Matos had the sheen and was usually on the right pitches, and her final, suicidally heroic outburst implied that she’d sing one hell of a Senta if she got the chance. Among the lesser figures, baritone Shannon DeVine and soprano Emily Duncan-Brown distinguished themselves.

John Yohalem

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