Recently in Performances
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
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.
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.
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.
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’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
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.