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

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

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):