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.
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".