Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anne Sofie von Otter [Photo by Carl Bengtsson / DG]
08 Feb 2012

Weill: Die sieben Todsünden

I failed to discern any rationale behind programming the Brecht-Weill ballet chanté with various works by Debussy, one orchestrated by Robin Holloway.

Kurt Weill: Die sieben Todsünden; Claude Debussy: Danse sacrée et profane; En blanc et noir (orchestrated by Robin Holloway); La mer.

Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bryn Lewis (harp), Synergy Vocals (Paul Badley, Gerard O’Beirne (tenors), Michael Dore, Paul Charrier (basses)), London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, Thursday 2 February 2012.

Above: Anne Sofie von Otter [Photo by Carl Bengtsson / DG]

 

The performances certainly extended beyond typical concert length, not helped by a ten-minute delay in beginning, and more to the point, the programme rather felt as if there were one too many piece. How, then, fared what for many was presumably the main attraction, Anne Sofie von Otter in The Seven Deadly Sins? Patchily, I am afraid. There were several problems, but most of all von Otter herself, whose performance seemed quite misconceived. From the opening of the Prologue, her reading lacked edge, seeming far too well-mannered. There is not a single way to perform this repertoire, and not everyone is Lotte Lenya – indeed, of course, no one else is – but, despite the microphone, von Otter sounded either ill at ease or merely pleasant (as in the second of the sins, ‘Stolz’). The performance seemed more an example of that most dubious of enterprises, ‘classical crossover’, than social critique. Oddly, on the occasional instances when she ditched her microphone, vocal production sounded more idiomatic. As for the would-be cool foot-tapping in ‘Zorn’, let us not dwell upon it. The gentlemen of Synergy Vocals were on far better form, though I am not sure that the nature of the amplification helped them. Theirs at least added an edge quite lacking elsewhere, rendering the Family’s hypocritical bourgeois morality all the more repellent. Perhaps surprisingly, Michael Tilson Thomas’s conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra was also rather tame, at least for a good two-thirds of the work. ‘Faulheit’ at least brought something of a wind band sonority, but for much of the performance, the pleasantness of Anna – whether I or II – had apparently proved contagious. In ‘Habsucht’ and ‘Neid’ there was at last some splendid orchestral playing, the LSO properly given its head, the results redolent of Mahagonny, even if Weill is here perhaps a little too obviously imitating his former self. The encore, ‘Speak low’ was preferable in every respect: everyone seemed more relaxed, and there was a far surer grasp of idiom.

At the beginning of the concert, Danse sacrée et profane had mysteriously replaced the advertised Last Pieces, Debussy as orchestrated by Oliver Knussen. LSO principal, Bryn Lewis, gave a good account of the harp part, though Tilson Thomas alternated between the deliberate and the subdued, especially in the first dance. The second showed its kinship to Ravel, but was perhaps overly moulded by the conductor. Holloway’s 2002 orchestration of En blanc et noir, by contrast, proved a revelation. The opening movement brings a glittering edge, at first not especially Debussyan – though it does not seem that Holloway is trying to be so – but perhaps more school of scintillating Dukas. As time went on, flashes and more than flashes, of Debussyan orchestral sonority manifest themselves: informing, but not controlling. This is certainly no attempt at pastiche. The second movement is, unsurprisingly, darker in hue, though not without metallic, militaristic glitter. A poignant trumpet solo lingers in the memory. Likewise the vivid realisation of the confrontation between Ein’ feste Burg and the Marseillaise: almost Ivesian, but better orchestrated. In the final movement, I fancied that I heard, albeit briefly, creepy shades of Bartók, supplanted by Ravel – and that is praise indeed for any orchestration.

La mer, which concluded the programme, opened promisingly, with a fine sense of ‘emerging’, all sections of the LSO on excellent form. ‘De l’aube à midi sur la mer’ flowed well, apparently on the swift side, but not to its detriment. However, by the time we reached the brass fanfares – included, doubtless to the chagrin of some, though I have no problem with them – doubts had begun to set in. So much was a little, and sometimes more than a little, too brash, and I do not think it was just a matter of the Barbican acoustic. Similarly, the glitter of ‘Jeux de vagues’, at first stimulating, soon seemed a little de trop. La mer was veering dangerously close to mere orchestral showpiece, as would be confirmed by the final movement, in which the conductor had it approximate to a decent film score. Direction was present, throughout, to be sure: there was no meandering. And there were some ravishing woodwind solos. But Debussy is so much more interesting, so much less straightforward, than he sounded here. Let us hope that Tilson Thomas does not resolve to tackle Pelléas.

Mark Berry

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):