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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz and Jonathan Best as Joihann Freidrich Oberlin [Photo by Stephen Cummiskey courtesy of English National Opera]
19 Apr 2012

Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz by ENO

When the ENO does really innovative work, it does so with style. Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz may have taken 34 years to reach London fully staged, but this ENO production made such a strong impression that it might be years before it will be forgotten.

Wolfgang Rihm: Jakob Lenz

Jakob Lenz: Andrew Shore; Johann Freidrich Oberlin: Jonathan Best; Christoph Kaufmann: Richard Roberts; Friederike Brion: Suzy Cooper; Voices: Rebecca van den Berg, Alexa Mason, Sigridur Osk, Louise Collett, Jimmy Holliday and Barnaby Rea. Children: Eleanor Grant, Harry Foster, Lillie Forrester. Director: Sam Brown. Designs: Annemarie Woods. Lighting: Guy Hoare. Movement: Anjali Mehra. Conductor: Alex Ingram. English National Opera. Hampstead Theatre, London, 17th April 2012.

Above: Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz and Jonathan Best as Joihann Freidrich Oberlin

Photos by Stephen Cummiskey courtesy of English National Opera


Wolfgang Rihm is one of the most important German composers of our time, and hugely influential. His orchestral and chamber music are well known in Britain, but less so his many operas. Jakob Lenz dates from 1978, when Rihm was only 24, but it’s an established part of the repertoire in Europe.

The Hampstead Theatre is a more claustrophobic performance space than the Young Vic or the Coliseum, which suits this opera well. Jakob Lenz was the Romantic poet who became insane. The stage is shrouded, as if in a mist, surrounded by realistic looking reeds. A reference to Wozzeck working in the reed beds, hallucinating mushrooms. The play on which Rihm’s Jakob Lenz is based was written by Georg Büchner who wrote Woyzeck, the source of Alban Berg’s opera.

Crazy, tangled images of reeds and water permeate this production Jakob Lenz is trapped in his madness: most of the action takes place on a narrow island on a stage within the stage. Lenz (Andrew Shore) keeps falling off the edge into real water, sometimes completely submerged. Pastor Johan Oberlin (Jonathan Best) doesn’t seem to notice, but Lenz’s friend Christoph Kaufmann (Richard Roberts) glances warily round the edges, careful not to lose his footing. It feels dangerous.

Jakob_Lenz_Andrew_Shore_Lillie_Forrester_Suzy_Cooper_4_c_Stephen_Cummiskey.pngAndrew Shore as Jakob Lenz, Lillie Forrester as one of the children, Suzy Cooper as Friederike Brion

Lenz’s psychosis connects to these waters. He drags a young girl into the pond and drowns her. Or so he thinks. Reason blurs into unreality, just as land blurs into water in these reed beds. Lenz thinks the girl, whatever she may be, is raised from the dead because he prays. “Lenz”, incidentally, means “spring” which would not have been lost on poet, playwright or composer. The girl (Lillie Forrester) isn’t a real girl, but may be Lenz’s idealized projection of himself. “Logical, Logical!” he repeats later, as if mantras will restore order. In that sense, he’s not really so different to the pastor and to the church around which this village clings. An outline of the church looms over the proceedings, and its mirror image forms the platform on which Lenz moves.

Hyper-realistic staging for an opera where reality is so distorted that the narrative disintegrates. Lenz is obssessed by Friederike Brion (Suzy Cooper) who was interested in Goethe, not in Lenz, though in Lenz’s mind she is a kind of muse. She’s seen in powdered wig and face, like a ghostly wraith. An apparition as much as a character, and not a woman, as such. This very busy setting was wise, for Wolfgang Rihm’s music is too intense to be easy listening. British audiences aren’t used to Rihm yet and need picture postcard images from Caspar David Friedrich to distance themselves from the extreme emotion in this music.

Jakob_Lenz_Andrew_Shore_Richard_Roberts_c_Stephen_Cummiskey.pngAndrew Shore as Jakob Lenz and Richard Roberts as Christoph Kaufmann

But what music it is! Intensely atmospheric, almost pictorial. Oboes, bass clarinets, bassoon and cellos, moaning ominously like wind in the reeds, echoing the otherworldy choruses. A harpsichord screams in shrill desperation. Hollow wooden tapping, muted percussion like frantic heartbeats. Sudden cries from small trumpet. Strings plucked and beaten, sounds half heard from beyond the auditorium. Hearing Rihm’s Jakob Lenz audio only can drive you crazy, but that’s the point. Lenz is an artist. Oberlin isn’t, though he’s nice. Must artists be driven like Lenz is? Imagination is powerful because it hints at more than it tells.

Performance of a lifetime from Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz, with strong support from Jonathan Best, Richard Roberts and Suzy Cooper, plus good chorus and actors. This isn’t an opera or a production for those who think Rusalka should be a pretty fairy tale, but it’s like a fairy tale in that it deals with subjects that can’t be easily explained. Georg Büchner’s original play (1836) treated psychosis in a modern, non-judgemental way. Generations before, Jakob Lenz might have been burned as a male witch. Büchner tries instead to understand, and Rihm gets us inside Jakob Lenz’s head, so we might feel as he does. It’s not comfortable, but most definitely important. Sam Brown is the director, Annemarie Woods the designer. For bringing Rihm’s Jakob Lenz to London, the ENO deserves every accolade.

Anne Ozorio

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