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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.



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

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