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.
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