Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
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.
16 Nov 2012
A Celebration of Mendelssohn Song
The Wigmore Hall Celebration of Mendelssohn Song series culminated in a recital of works by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn and by Robert and Clara Schumann. The programme was very well chosen because Felix, Fanny, Robert and Clara knew each other..
Susan Gritton, Sarah Connolly and Eugene Asti began the recital with duets, affirming the theme of companionship and symbiosis. Three contrasting settings of Heinrich Heine, including the famous Wasserfahrt op 50/4 which Felix Mendelssohn wrote shortly before the Schumanns married, inspiring Robert Schumann's Liederjahre. Heine's text suggests connections with Winterreise. The poet leaves his homeland. He passes his sweetheart's home but she shows no sign of interest, so he sails off into the unknown, blinded by tears. There's irony in the way the voices intertwine, though there's no hope for the relationship. The piano part describes waves: the ocean is impersonal, constantly changing, obliterating the past.
Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel wrote almost 400 works, a significant output for a woman in her social circle. Her Five Lieder op 10 reflect her intellectual rigour. Fanny endured a long engagement because Wilhelm Hensel worked in Italy, so her setting of Hensel's poem, Nach Süden (op 10/1), had deep personal meaning. The theme of separation may have resonated with her brother after her death, for he included it as the first song in this posthumous publication. Nonetheless it's very well written: Felix would not have included anything less in a tribute to his much missed sister. It bears comparison with Fanny's settings of Lenau, Geibel and Eichendorff. These were all contemporaries: Fanny was setting "new" poetry, choosing poets who were to inspire generations of composers to come.
In Vorwurf, (op 10/2), she confronts the bleakness of Lenau's verse without compromise. The suggestion of ponderous footsteps in the piano part suggests gloom, but the stern reproach in the second strophe indicates strong-minded resolution.: no escape into "romantic" passivity. The vine imagery in the Geibel setting Im Herbst (op 10/4) inspires luscious curling symmetries Most beautiful, perhaps, is the Eichendorff setting Bergeslust, (op10/5), the last piece she wrote before she died. The introduction is written with great freedom evoking the open vistas of a mountain top. Clouds drift down, and birds descend, but "Gedanken gehn und Lieder fort bis ins Himmelreich". Voice and piano join in unison.
Susan Gritton's recording of Fanny Mendelssohn Songs for Hyperion is a a classic, but on this occasion she may have been unwell, for she was not on her usual form. Nonetheless, she has worked so closely with Eugene Asti that he could compensate. He played with sensitivity, protecting Gritton so she wasn't exposed. Later in the evening, she regained her composure. In Lieder, as in life, partnership like this benefits performance. Very much in keeping with the theme of companionship that ran through this programme. It's not for nothing that Asti is one of the great champions of Mendelssohn song in recital.
Eugene Asti and Sarah Connolly have also worked closely together in Mendelssohn. Connolly sang Mendelssohn's Six Songs op 71 with great poise. Intelligent phrasing, clear diction, a nice burnished tone. I specially liked the Lenau setting Schilflied (1842) where the poet describes the stillness of a pond in the monlight, where deer and birds move among the reeds. ".....träumerisch im tiefen Rohr", sang Connolly, breathing into the vowels with great feeling. The Eichendorff setting Nachtlied (1847) is exquiste, at once elegaic and elegant. Night has descended, with intimations of death. But the poet isn't alone "Frisch auf dem, liebe Nachtigall ! du Wasserfall mit hellen Schall!" The song of the nightingale lights up the gloom with a cascade of bright, refershing song. Gentle diminuendo in the postlude, like embers glowing in the darkness.
If anything, Robert Schumann was even more sensitive to poetry than the Mendelssohns. Schumann's Spanisches Liederspiel (op 74, 1849) set Geibel's verses describing an exotic, imaginary Spain. The three songs chosen from the set depict flowers and sensual perfumes. In Botschaft, "Tausend Blumen, tauumflossen", piano and vocal lines entwine like garlands, intoxicating the listener, drawing him into a world of possibly illicit passion. In their own ways, Mendelssohn and Schumann contributed towards the Romantic challenge to the aesthetic of North German Protestant propriety. It's no coincidence that Hugo Wolf worshipped Schumann, wrote his own Spansiches Liederbuch (also to Geibel and Heyse) and operas based on Spanish themes.
Clara Schumann was a contemporary of Chopin and Liszt. Like them, she had an international celebrity career. She was an independent breadwinner in a way that Fanny Mendelssohn could not be, constrained as she was by her higher social status. By any standards, Clara Schumann was a pioneer, but Robert wanted her to be a composer, too. Songs like Lorelei and Volkslied (both Heine) charm because they're so descriptive. But her instrument was the piano, not voice. The bitter tragedy of Heine's Sie liebren sich beide (op 13/2 1842) didn't bite, though Asti's accompaniment was accomplished.
Susan Gritton sang Robert Schumann's Six Poems of Nikolaus Lenau (op 90) picking up nicely. Lyrical as these songs are, there are tricky moments, like the tongue twister "vom stillen Strahl des Schmerzens bist du gebeugt und blasser" in Meine Rose. Sarah Connolly returned for the op 90 Requiem "Ruh' von schmerzensreichen Mühen".