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.
10 Nov 2012
Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Marking Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday came a BBC Total Immersion
weekend at the Barbican: a double-bill of Knussen’s two operas written in
collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are and
Higgledy Piggledy Pop! on Saturday, followed by a day of two chamber
concerts, a film, and an orchestral concert conducted by the composer himself
This co-production of the two operas with the Aldeburgh Festival and
the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association was a delight. Netia Jones employs a
cunning, loving mix of animation and live action to retain as much as humanly
possible of Sendak’s celebrated drawings. Sometimes we see more of one than
the other, though the principal characters — the boy Max in Where the
Wild Things Are and Jennie the Sealyham Terrier in Higglety Pigglety
Pop! — are ‘real’ throughout. How much lies their — or our? —
imagination? What is real anyway? The use of animation for the monsters save at
the beginning and end of the first opera — we see the singers go behind a
screen and emerge at the end, and of course we hear the, throughout —
heightens our questioning. The screen in neatly reversed in Higglety
Pigglety Pop! so that we see the secondary characters both on stage and on
film. Again, what is real? Are not both varieties of apparition and/or
depiction? In the land of the Mother Goose World Theatre, all the world’s a
stage — a tribute, surely, as much to Stravinsky and his Rake’s
Progress tribute to Mozart, the latter parodied in Knussen’s final
scene, as to Ravel. (Both Higglety and Don Giovanni end
'outside' their dramas, in bright if tarnished D major.) The repetitions of
that gala performance, the time-honoured tradition of a play within a play,
unsettle as they should. What do they mean? When will they stop? Again, what,
and who, is ‘real’? That is very much the stuff of imaginary worlds,
strongest for some in childhood, but for many of us just as powerful in
subsequent stages of our lives.
Crucially, the sense of fantasy in libretto and production is at the very
least equally present in Knussen’s scores, kinship with Ravel especially
apparent in Where the Wild Things Are. And we all know who composed
the most perfect operatic depiction of childhood. Stravinsky sometimes seems
close too, for instance in the fiercer rhythmically driven music of the second
scene (Mama and her hoover), the Symphony in Three Movements coming to
my mind. And the musical material itself of course delightfully pays tribute
both to Debussy’s La boîte à joujoux and most memorably to
Boris Godunov, direct quotation reminiscing of the Tsar’s ill-fated
coronation when Max is crowned King of all Wild Things.
A scene from Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Ryan Wigglesworth’s direction was palpably alive to this sense of
orchestral wonder and fantasy, his programme notes an exemplary tribute from
one composer-conductor to another from whom he has learned a great deal. The
tone of performance darkened in tandem with that of the score for Higglety
Pigglety Pop! Detail was meaningful without exaggeration, for instance in
the subtle pointing up of certain intervals associated with different
characters. Those with ears to hear would do so, consciously or otherwise.
Moreover, the orchestra’s response was as assured, as disciplined, as
generous as the conductor’s direction. The Britten Sinfonia was throughout on
outstanding form, thoroughly inside Knussen’s idiom, unfailingly precise
without sacrifice to warmth of tone. Despite relatively chamber-like forces, at
least in the string section (22.214.171.124.4), one often felt that was hearing a
larger orchestra, for this was anything but a small-scale performance. Indeed,
accustomed as I am to hearing the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican,
there were many times when I should not have been surprised to discover that I
had in fact been hearing the LSO.
Claire Booth headed a fine cast for Where the Wild Things Are, her
Max as quicksilver on stage as vocally. Lucy Schaufer proved every inch her
equal as Jennie in Higglety Pigglety Pop! Very much the singing
actress, her deeper mezzo tones were perfectly suited to the darkened tones of
the score. There is something a little dangerous about Jennie and the acting
world of ‘experience’ for which she forsakes her comfortable home — yet
in a sense all children must at some point act similarly. All members of the
two casts, however, were richly deserving of praise, a particular favourite of
mine Graeme Danby’s surreal, apparently innocent Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards.
These performances came across as true company efforts, a state of affairs
doubtless deepened by ‘experience’ in Aldeburgh and Los Angeles.
Where the Wild Things Are
Max: Claire Booth; Mama/Voice of Tzippy: Susan Bickley; Moishe: Christopher
Lemmings; Emil: Graeme Broadbent; Aaron: Jonathan Gunthorpe; Bernard: Graeme
Danby; Tzippy: Charlotte McDougall
Higglety Pigglety Pop!
Jane: Lucy Schaufer; The Potted Plant/Baby: Susanna Andersson; Rhoda/Voice
of Baby’s Mother: Claire Booth; Cat-Milkman/High Voice of Ash Tree:
Christopher Lemmings; Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards: Graeme Danby; Lion/Low Voice of
Ash Tree: Graeme Broadbent
Netia Jones (director, designs); Britten Sinfonia/Ryan Wigglesworth
(conductor). Barbican Hall, Saturday 3 November 2012.