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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

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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

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A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

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La Bohème, ENO

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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.



Marie McDunnough and Jack Rennie, Artists of Atelier Ballet [Photo by Bruce Zinger courtesy of Opera Atelier]
19 Apr 2012

Armide, Opera Atelier

I have to rethink my week, because somehow I have to get to see Opera Atelier’s production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide again.

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Armide

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Marie McDunnough and Jack Rennie, Artists of Atelier Ballet

Photos by Bruce Zinger courtesy of Opera Atelier


Possibly the finest opera of the 17th Century, and certainly one of the greatest operas ever written, it’s almost completely unknown to most people.

Why see it again, and why should you see it?

Forget what you think baroque opera is supposed to do. Instead of the alternation between recitatives and arias, singers showing off their skills with elaborate coloratura and high notes that stop the story in its tracks, Lully’s arioso writing keeps moving, often punctuated by dance, and avoiding the stasis one finds in an Italian baroque aria.

120412_17954.pngPeggy Kriha Dye as Armide

Armide is a story of love and duty. Set in the Crusades, Armide is an Islamic Princess, while Renaud, her chief antagonist — and eventually her lover — is a Christian Knight. The story elicits so many odd moments of personal conflict and ambivalence that when Jean-Luc Godard set passages from the opera in the film Aria, they illustrate a kind of misogynistic torment of women that seems to lead to madness. I don’t encourage you to see Godard’s film, at least until you’ve encountered the work as written.

Watching the opera tonight I thought of a film with a similar offbeat mythology, namely Mr & Mrs Smith, a story about a husband and wife who are hired killers. For awhile in the film they try to kill each other, not so very different from the antagonism one sometimes experiences in marriage, but taken to a comical extreme.

Or as Pat Benatar tried to tell us, “love is a battlefield”.

That metaphorical understanding of the opera’s epic battles — in other words, that Armide is less a matter of crusading and more a matter of loving — is the key to the new production. In OA’s previous take on Lully’s opera, at least in what Director Marshall Pynkoski spoke of in his notes– they seemed to focus mostly on the politics, so that it ended on an anti-climax, as Armide was abandoned by her lover Renaud.

120412_16528.pngPeggy Kriha Dye as Armide and Colin Ainsworth as Renaud

This time Pynkoski paid less attention to matters of state and instead concentrated on matters of the heart. In Lully’s style of opera, dance is integral to the action, and so it’s no wonder that choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg was involved more in Armide than perhaps any previous opera from OA.

Dancer Jack Rennie is the most memorable personage in the work (even without singing), playing the figure of Love. For awhile Armide seeks to escape from love, and enlists the aid of Hate, a demonic figure from Hell, to exorcise Love from inside her. The small part of Hate was memorably sung by Curtis Sullivan. Hate brings demons to torture Love, but in the end Armide chooses Love and rejects Hate (which makes him even angrier).

Both leads were outstanding. Colin Ainsworth as Renaud reprised the role he sang in the previous production, every note exactly on pitch. The voice is as gentle and sweet sounding as ever, but seems to have grown bigger. Peggy Kriha Dye as Armide has a far more difficult part to play. Where Renaud has to mostly look heroic and then fall in love, Armide is a far more ambivalent character of contradictory passions. The dramatic highlight of the evening was Dye’s scene when she comes upon the sleeping Renaud, intending to kill him.

This sequence — complete with daggers — might be why Jean-Luc Godard decided to show Armide as a window on the oppression of women, with his chief insight being that love makes women crazy. We saw Dye’s portrayal change from the confident attacker, seduced by Ainsworth’s vulnerable form, and tormented by indecision, finally incapable of striking.

120412_17213.pngOlivier LaQuerre as Chevalier Ubalde and Artists of Atelier Ballet

The throbbing heart of the production is Tafelmusik Orchestra led by David Fallis. Singers were never covered, but always supported sensitively, even though the score is full of drumming and strong rhythms reminiscent of military music. The other highlight came unexpectedly from Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, in a sequence where we are being told about the delusory nature of reality. The music is a delightfully sensual lure, even as the text tells us otherwise.

Designer Gerard Gauci’s lovely sets are more elaborate than before, in anticipation of being toured first to Versailles Theatre, and then Glimmerglass for the summer.

But first they’ll finish out the week at the Elgin Theatre until Saturday April 21st.

Leslie Barcza

This review is reprinted from Barcza Blog with permission of the author.

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