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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. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. .
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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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’.
02 Aug 2012
Santa Fe Opera, Karol Szymanowski : King Roger
The gifted Polish composer Karol Szymanowski wrote his three-act King Roger, in the 1920's. It is an allegorical tale of honor vs. pleasure set to quite beautiful music, especially in the orchestral writing, which Santa Fe chose to play in the same season as the Rossini in a wide tip of the hat to unknown but worthy repertory.
While King Roger is rarely heard, I happen to have experienced it in 1980 when the St. Louis Symphony presented two performances in concert form under the direction of Leonard Slatkin, who was an advocate for Szymanowski’s music. It made very little impression at that time, but heightened my appreciation of the Santa Fe production, whose theatrical qualities much enhanced the somewhat tepid tale of the Sicilian king, if one set within an unusually rich musical tapestry. A colorful and dramatic production of a static opera can make the effort seem worthwhile, and King Roger’s treatment by Santa Fe could hardly have been more beneficial. (Santa Fe played the opera in one 90-minute act that enhanced continuity.)
First of all the music: Wide swathes of Debussy-influenced tone painting abound, forming an impressionistic atmosphere, often punctuated and disputed by sharp polytonal accents and chromatic arguments in the full orchestra, illustrating Roger’s unhappy moods. The King is torn between his conventional church-approved duties as Monarch, versus the upsetting proposals of a charismatic Shepherd that appeared from nowhere, and much beguiled not only Roger’s subjects but also his wife, Roxana, with tempting ideas about sensual and erotic pleasures. Roger himself is tempted but also dismayed by the Shepherd whose call he hears all too well. In the end the King restores order, at least in his own mind, and assumes the royal robes of convention, but not without having been marked by life’s Dionysian distractions. With lots of talk, lots of posturing and agonizing and a rather ho-hum plot, King Roger is saved by the elegant and original music emanating from the orchestra. The vocal writing is mainly declamatory or conversational, with few if any memorable set pieces, aside from Roxanna’s song, a haunting vocalise that accompanies her fall to Dionysius.
Special appreciation must go to Evan Rogister, the young American conductor, who was a leading hand in making the show work. The singers were all competent, and sometimes more than that, but it is an ensemble opera without the need for star turns. As the King, young Polish lyric baritone Mariusz Kwiecien was authoritative and convincing, perhaps more in the King’s suffering than otherwise, but his is a lyric voice, so fine in Mozart, sometimes taxed in Szymanowski’s bigger moments. His Roxana was handsomely sung by the soprano Erin Morley who brought silvery beauty to her aria. The Shepherd is a hard role to cast and no doubt a difficult one to perform, but ingratiating tenor William Burden rose to the occasion, even if sometimes his top tones turned a bit pale and hard to hear. Raymond Aceto lent his distinguished baritone voice to the role of the Archbishop, with Dennis Peterson and Laura Wilde serving well in secondary parts.
The effectively played stage action was conceived by highly regarded director Stephen Wadsworth whose ideas were strong and clarifying, and were assisted by the ingenious if spare set designs of Thomas Lynch. The unusually fine costumes were by Ann Hould-Ward. Her designs, detailed and impressive, especially in Act I, immediately established a feeling of style and quality that set the right tone and engaged the viewer; strong input by Ms Hould-Ward who first worked at Santa Fe in 1992. I must particularly acknowledge the accomplishment of chorus master Susanne Sheston, whose Santa Fe Opera apprentice singers, augmented by twenty-four professional voices from the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, gave a superior account of Szymanowski’s sumptuous choral writing, one of the most noteworthy beauties of the score. I hope to meet King Roger again some day. His is an enchanting and musically rewarding illusion.
© J.A. Van Sant, 2012