Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
05 Oct 2012
Mozart’s Ghost finds its Way through Das Labyrinth
W.A. Mozart, despite a historically antagonistic relationship with his city of birth, retains an omnipresence in Salzburg that emerges in full force with each iteration of the illustrious summer festival.
The indulgence reached its
pinnacle in 2006—fifty years prior to his tercentenary—with the
staging of all 22 of his operas, including early works which scholars have
discovered to have been co-authored by his father, Leopold. This season, the
new Intendant Alexander Pereira has brushed the dust off another 18th-century
obscurity, written not by W.A. himself but in posthumous tribute to his last
opera, Die Zauberflöte. The librettist and impresario Emmanuel
Schickaneder, eager to ride the success of the Singspiel, set to work writing a
sequel, Das Labyrinth, and found a willing partner in the composer
Peter von Winter. The work was premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1798,
seven years after Mozart’s death and the premiere of Die
To Schickaneder ‘s credit, the ambiguous nature of good and evil in
the original libretto continues to provide scholars with endless fodder. When
Goethe heard of the Das Labyrinth’s success in 1803, he began penning his
own sequel which was left incomplete after the fruitless search for a composer.
While Goethe develops the story in a more Romantic direction, endowing Tamino
and Pamina with a son, the Genius, and augmenting the magical powers of both
the Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the trajectory of Schickaneder’s
sequel does not depart much from Die Zauberflöte despite the
introduction of several new characters and a labyrinth which represents the
final trial for Tamino and Pamina (never mind that Sarastro already initiated
them into his sun circle). Meanwhile, the Queen is scheming not only with the moor
Monostatos but Tipheus, King of Paphos, who vies for Pamina’s hand. They
manage to briefly abduct the princess, but the Queen must ultimately cede to
Sarastro’s powers when Tamino defeats Tipheus in a duel. Papageno and
Papagena, who have discovered a large extended family, also help suppress evil
by capturing Monostatos.
Winter’s score faithfully adopts strains of the original opera with a
range of success. The first duet of Papageno and Papagena, “Lalaera!
Lara! Lara!,” is a pleasant spinoff of “Pa, pa, pa…”
without directly rehashing Mozart’s melodies. The chorus of priests that
ends the eleventh scene of Act One is skilfully crafted, a ghost of
Mozart’s incomparable harmonies, yet it would have been better placed at
the very end of the act. The Queen’s opening aria “Ha! Wohl mir!
Höre es, Natur” reveals that Winter studied his late Mozart operas
carefully, with strong hints of his proto-Romanticism, yet it is melodically
not very inventive, and the firework coloratura that characterizes the role is
reduced to a passage of uninspired runs toward the end. The sequel’s
Pamina is assigned more virtuosity than her original counterpart, but sadly,
the spin-off to the aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”—“ Ach!
Ich muss alleine tragen”—gives no musical indication of her longing
to die and instead culminates in meaningless coloratura. The Three Women, here
named Venus, Amor and Page, get some nice numbers, revealing Winter’s
talent for colourful, pseudo-Mozartean scoring, and yet the effort could have
been more self-conscious. The five-note motive representing the magic flute
does not emerge once, not even when Sarastro hands it to Tamino for protection before
he enters the labyrinth.
Despite the worn-out qualities of the piece, it has its genuinely charming
moments, particularly with Papageno and his clan. In the Salzburg production,
seen August 26, the young Austrian baritone Thomas Tatzl stole the show as the
feathered bird catcher, joking to the audience with tireless charisma and a
naturally warm, well-projected voice. Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann was also
delightful as Papagena. The celebrated tenor Michael Schade was the stand-out
of the evening from a purely vocal perspective in the role of Tamino, while
Malin Hartelius was more uneven as Pamina, struggling to overcome the
unfavourable acoustics of the Residenzhof, a covered courtyard where audience
members sat with blankets on their laps to ward of the chill of the Salzburger
Schnürrregen (sudden rainfall). The bass of Christoff Fischesser
similarly risked being swallowed in the role of Sarastro. As the Queen of the
Night, Julia Novikova was strongest in pure lyric moments. The baritone Klaus
Kuttler was a frustrated Monostatos, and Anton Scharinger amusing as the Older
The Three Women (Nina Bernsteiner, Christina Daletska, and Monia Bohinec)
brought fine singing to the stage, as did members of the Festival
Children’s Choir who appeared to Tamino as the “Three Genies”
after Monostatos’ attempt to abduct Papagena. The Salzburger Bachchor,
prepared by Alois Glassner, did full justice to Winter’s choral numbers,
and Ivor Bolton led the Orchestra of the Mozarteum in a characteristically
crisp, authentic reading of the score, even if it occasionally lacked elegance.
Sets by Raimund Orfeo Voigt started out inauspiciously with a mini-proscenium
of a theatre that looked straight out of a high-school production but improved
with towering black panels punctured with light to represent Sarastro’s
circle. Costumes by Elisabeth Binder-Neururer were designed in the local
tradition of semi-rococo but reached their apex in the colourful Lederhosen-
and Tracht-inspired garb of the Papageno family. The dancing, feathered
children of the finale reaffirmed Salzburg as an anachronism Mozart might never
have imagined could exist over three centuries after his death.
Click here for cast and production information.