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.
26 Apr 2012
Manon Lescaut, Philadelphia
It is Manon month in the Mid-Atlantic states. In New York, the Met is presenting Massanet’s take, while Opera Company of Philadelphia has just opened Puccini’s version: his first successful opera, Manon Lescaut.
The latter is a tribute to the company management, which programmed a work not
heard in Philadelphia for decades in lieu of yet another Bohème,
Tosca or Butterfly, and then overcame adversity to craft an
Opera Philadelphia often benefits from the remarkable number of fine singers
trained in local conservatories—but rarely as much as in this production.
When the scheduled soprano (Ermonela Jaho) cancelled less than a month ago,
Texas-born Michelle Johnston, a 29-year old in her final year at AVA, stepped
in, learned the role from scratch, and sang it with distinction. A grand
finalist in last year’s Met national auditions, Johnston is a well-schooled
singer with the most of the resources to tackle the singular challenge of
Manon, whose evolution from youthful innocence through giddy greed to death in
disgrace is mirrored by a vocal transformation from lyric to
coloratura to spinto soprano. She was most impressive in
slimming down her voice for the Act II minuet scene, complete with a (quasi-)
trill. Given her youth and the rushed conditions of her premiere, it is perhaps
inevitable that, earlier and later, Johnston sometimes seemed a bit cautious.
Later in the run, she will perhaps cut loose more at the big emotional moments,
such as the aria, “Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata.” Overall, however, this was
a smart and sensitive performance by a young singer to watch.
Thiago Arancam is a 32-year old Brazilian lirico spinto tenor who
started singing late and has been trained largely in Milan. He is a sexy guy on
stage, with a voice both pleasant and intriguing, mostly due to its unusually
dark color—a quality often thought to signal grand heroic potential. For the
moment, he sings smoothly and in tune, if uniformly at forte. Yet the
sound in the middle and lower parts of the voice lacks the mixture of warm
timbre and clear ring Italian tenors prize, and sometimes fades out
suddenly—a quality that suggests the tone is being forced. Even at best, the
result, some robust high notes aside, his agreeable approach skims over
subtleties in the character of the Chevalier des Grieux: his flirtatious
serenade, sweet reflection on falling in love, and the gut-wrenching "No! No!,
Pazzo son" all sounded vaguely similar. Perhaps Arancam—scheduled to sing
this role in Dresden under Christian Thielemann in a year—will yet realize
Thiago Arancam as Des Grieux and Michelle Johnson as Manon Lescaut
Two character baritones supported the cast well. Daniel Mobbs continued his
strong work for Philadelphia, seeming to inhabit to the character of Manon’s
rich seducer and patron Geronte de Ravoir. Troy Cook was strong if a bit uneven
as her brother. Cody Austin sang brightly as the student Edmondo, John Viscardi
pranced menacingly as the Dancing Master, and John David Miles’s robust tones
came out of nowhere as the Sergeant.
The production was vintage Philadelphia: realistic, colorful, and
cost-effective without probing even the (relatively shallow) depths of
Manon Lescaut’s libretto-by-committee. Still, it offered one
interesting idea, namely a (mechanically-challenged) drop with projected
paraphrases from of the literary text from which the story originates.
Music director Corrado Rovaris was largely in his element in this
fast-moving score, with the orchestra responding brilliantly—better than I
have ever hesrd them—in moments such as the police raid at the end of Act II.
To be sure, one might have liked to hear Rovaris encourage the young cast to
linger at other critical moments, but rubato is not his thing.
Scene from Manon Lescaut
Given the success of this production, perhaps Philadelphia will now dare to
extend its successful string of operas by 20th-century master Hans Werner Henze
to include his unjustly neglected adaptation of the Manon tale, Boulevard