Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
12 May 2012
Bartók and Szymanowski, Barbican Hall
In this, the second of two LSO concerts in which Péter Eötvös replaced
Pierre Boulez, one continued to feel the loss of the latter in his repertoire,
yet one equally continued to value his replacement, very much his own
first concert had inserted Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto
between Debussy’s Images and Scriabin’s Poem of
Ecstasy, here Szymanowski’s Third Symphony, the ‘Song of the
Night’ was preceded by two Bartók works.The Szymanowski symphony provided
a fitting climax, and made for an interesting contrast with another recent
London performance, from Vladimir
Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In almost every respect,
Eötvös’s performance proved superior. Eötvös’s, or rather
Boulez’s, programme made a great deal more sense too. (There will,
extraordinarily, be a third London performance later in the year, or rather two
performances on 11 and 18 December, again from the LSO, conducted by Valery
In the opening bars, Eötvös imparted a fine sense of purpose, of onward
tread, which had often been lacking in Jurowski’s somewhat meandering
account. Yet there was no loss of delight in sonority, nor of fantasy from an
LSO very much on top form. Steve Davislim in his opening line, ‘O nie
śpij, druhu, nocy tej,’ (‘O! Sleep not, my dearest friend,
this night’) immediately announced himself more commandingly than
Jurowski’s tenor, more fervent, even possessed, for there was here and
elsewhere a fine sense of mysticism to the performances of all concerned. Where
Jurowski had often skated over the surface and had misplaced one particular
climax, here one truly felt that Eötvös knew where he was going, climaxes
expertly prepared and executed. Orchestrally and chorally – for the
London Symphony Chorus was on equally wonderful form – this was not just
a magic carpet of sound; it was a carpet that took us somewhere. Eötvös was, in
that typically Wagnerian dialectic, both more ‘symphonic’ and more
‘musico-dramatic,’ the one quality contributing to the other. Not
only did he exhibit a fine command of rhythm, including harmonic rhythm; he
also communicated musical ‘character’, whether or no
Szymanowski’s ‘song’ embodies an actual ‘story’.
The opening of the second stanza was again noteworthy for Davislim’s
mystical yet commanding performance: ‘Jak cicho. Inni śpia.’
(‘How peaceful it is. All the world is sleeping.’) However, it was
equally remarkable for the Nietzschean stillness (hints of Also sprach
Zarathustra, both in Nietzsche’s and Strauss’s versions,
perhaps of Mahler’s Third Symphony too) from the orchestra and a duly
awestruck chorus. Orchestral memories of Tristan und Isolde soon
verged upon the overwhelming: this is Night, after all. And the chorus sounded
explosions in the heavens. Yes, contra Nietzsche, one can, indeed must,
transcend, even if only momentarily. And was that an echo of another
transfiguration, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, in the orchestral
Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta had found
the LSO’s strings and percussion on fine form too. I very much liked the
questing opening, violas going so far as to evoke the stirrings of
Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. There was a true darkness to Eötvös’s
performance, almost Romantic, but avowedly of the twentieth century, a darkness
that characterised both mood and trajectory, ‘fearful symmetry’
indeed. And how splendid it was to benefit from a full orchestral string
section, with no half-way house of a chamber compromise. That certainly enabled
a highly dramatic performance of the fugue to emerge, as enveloping, as
arresting a drama, so it seemed, as Bluebeard’s Castle itself.
The second movement benefited from the placing of the violins – crucial
in this of all works – to the extent that one had a sense of versicle and
response, properly ‘antiphonal’ (a word seemingly often employed by
people not entirely sure what it means). Rhythms were sharp without a hint of
showiness. The contrapuntal delights of both work and performance seemed to
evoke Bachian ‘invention’ in more than one sense. (One could hardly
fail to think of Mikrokosmos.) The slow movement was wonderfully
eerie, ‘night music’ that suggested as much a menacing toy kingdom,
a Nutcracker turned sour, as ‘mere’ Nature. And there was
a Bluebeard-like sadness underlying the violence, a vale of tears that
had no need of staging. The finale was taken at quite a lick, though there were
a few tempo adjustments later on that did not entirely convince. For the most
part, however, this was a performance secure in direction. Again, Bachian
antecedents were to the fore: a Transylvanian Brandenburg Concerto
Of the three performances, it was that of Bartók’s Second Violin
Concerto that slightly disappointed, mostly on account of the first movement,
in which soloist Nikolaj Znaider seemed curiously disconnected from the
orchestra. Znaider is a musician I admire greatly, but here his approach seemed
somewhat sectional, and lacked a real sense of interplay with the LSO, whose
musicians could hardly be faulted. Perhaps it was telling that it was only
really in the cadenza that Znaider’s first-movement performance ignited.
What came thereafter, including the conclusion to that movement, seemed far
more responsive, far better integrated, giving a sense of what might have been.
The slow movement continued in that vein; the violin sang soulfully, nobly, but
now sounded infinitely better ‘connected’. Its central scherzando
material was sharply etched. The finale, though it had occasional reminders of
earlier disengagement, proved highly successful in voicing the sheer range of
Bartók’s thematic expression, in both solo and orchestral parts.
Znaider’s tone was seductive, but never for its own sake. Here was a
foretaste of the emotional commitment we should fully experience in