Recently in Performances
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
19 Apr 2012
Il Sogno di Scipione
It’s unclear whether Mozart composed this highly undramatic “dramatic action” when he was fifteen, for his kindly master Prince-Archbishop von Schrettenbach of Salzburg, or the following year for the newly-elected successor, Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, who, soon afterwards, had the young man literally kicked out of his service.
It is also unclear how much of
Sogno was ever performed in Mozart’s lifetime—very little,
apparently. The piece’s modern revival, possibly world premiere, took place
in 1979 with a cast (recorded) whose luxe is hardly imaginable for such a
project today: Popp, Gruberova, Mathis, Schreier, et al.
Michele Angelini as Scipione
The text is a moralizing serenata by the indefatigable imperial court poet
Metastasio (only his death, after half a century on the job, left the Viennese
post to Lorenzo da Ponte). He drew it from Cicero’s moralizing fable of the
younger Scipio Africanus choosing (in a dream) virtue over pleasure in the fine
old Roman republican manner, thus putting to shame the decadent Romans of
Cicero’s later era when the republic was dying. Metastasio made the choice
between Good Luck (Fortuna) and Self-Discipline (Constanza), and of course
Scipio chooses the latter, though not without Fortuna getting to make her case
pretty well. Sententious sentiment made the libretto ideal for formal
occasions, such as the investment of a new archbishop, but rather a stretch in
the theater. I saw it at the Residenz-Theater in Munich in 1991 (on a
double-bill with Mozart’s Apollo und Hyakinthos); the exquisite
jewel-box theater considerably outshone the music. Neal Goren, of Gotham
Chamber Opera, claims that when he started his company ten years ago, he slyly
told Christopher Alden that there was a Mozart opera that had never been staged
in this country (true) and that it was regarded as unstageable. Alden,
naturally, took this as a challenge. To celebrate ten felicitous years, Gotham
has revived his brilliant opening, which I missed at the time.
Cast of Il Sogno di Scipione
The production’s Regie-theater clichés must, in 2001, have been as
startling to a New York audience as Goren hoped they’d be. They still make
the audience laugh—and remain attentive. The curtain rises in heaven, a bare
bedroom, and Scipio wakes scratchily from a doze to find himself literally
between the sheets between two goddesses, from whom he must choose one. (At
last Friday’s performance, Fortuna has gone to bed with filthy feet. I have
no idea whether this was part of the director’s vision.) Fortuna presents
herself as fickle but fun by doing a reverse striptease, pulling assorted
outfits from a closet and trying them on for us. (Shoes! Tops! Wigs!) Constanza
never sheds her nightdress but she invokes the Music of the Spheres,
impersonated by globular hanging lamps. A chorus of dead heroes appears at the
window in assorted deadbeat garb, echoes from a zombie movie. (Scipio,
terrified, climbs on the wardrobe to escape them.) Scipio’s father (Publio,
an amputee in this version) and grandfather (Emilio, wheelchair-bound and
blind) show up to remind the lad of the glories of public service, in arias
that Mozart cannot have intended to possess the ironic air Alden’s staging
gives them. At last, though spooked, Scipio chooses Constanza (the path of
duty), Fortuna is frustrated, and an Epilogue (Licenza) appears to warble the
best tune of the night, congratulating the audience (in Mozart’s day, the
Archibishop; nowadays, us) for having the taste to admire this sublime
entertainment. Alden’s Licenza demonstrates her enthusiasm by tossing disco
moves into her coloratura ecstasies.
All of this activity and ironic subtext-as-commentary-within-action
undoubtedly gives the score a better chance of being appreciated than it would
ever secure if performed “straight.” Doubt crept in during the more
elaborate vocal displays—the piece was written for vocal display,
illustrating and underlining the meanings of the text, and as the intended
first cast were Salzburg singers, Mozart knew just what they could do. The
young singers performing for Gotham Chamber Opera were all of them more than
qualified to do justice to Mozart, personable, talented actors as well. But
none of the performances was entirely on the mark, coloratura were often
uneven, a little tuneless or imprecise, and it was impossible to suppress the
notion that they’d have sung better if there had been less wriggling about
(or tottering, in the case of amputated Publio, or clambering up the walls of
the armoire in the case of Scipio, or thrash-dancing in the case of Licenza).
It was an occasion of colorful performing but the Mozart-singing suffered for
Susannah Biller as Fortuna, Michele Angelini as Scipione and Marie-Ève Munger as Constanza
The two most interesting voices, the ones that made me eager to hear them
again in less athletic circumstances, belonged to Michele Angelini as dreaming
Scipio and to Maeve Höglund as Licenza. Angelini possesses a baritonal tenor,
an agreeable sound of masculine depth and a happy instinct for phrasing, plus
an easy extension to an agreeable lyric top. One foresees enjoying him as
Idomeneo or Belmonte. Höglund had the most sensuous voice of the bunch, a
soprano with mezzo undertones, luscious and sensuous in a text that lacked
seductive implications but seemed to have them when she put it over. Susannah
Biller’s Fortuna was flashy, sometimes to strident effect. Marie-Ève
Munger’s Costanza was altogether more cozy, but then it can’t be easy to
impersonate something so stolid with any flare. Arthur Espiritu and Chad A.
Johnson were effective as the ghosts of Scipio’s family past. Neal Goren led
a very spirited orchestra and chorus, and nearly two hours passed as
harmoniously as Ptolemy the Astronomer could have demanded.