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Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful
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On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
16 Dec 2012
Grieg : Peer Gynt, Barbican Hall London
Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt op 23 is rarely heard in full, though the Suites thereon are ubiquitous. At the Barbican Hall in London, Grieg's incidental music for Henrik Ibsen's play was heard complete, enhanced by incidental speech.
Edvard Grieg never did leave a definitive version of his incidental music for Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt. The pity is that the power of the music cannot be quite appreciated out of context. Individual movements make fine concert pieces, but heard in dramatic context they make even more sense. For his concert of the complete incidental music with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers at the Barbican on Saturday 15 December, Mark Minkowski chose to present the music with a stripped down version of Ibsen’s play created by director Alain Perroux. Young actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama performed the play in English, whilst three distinguished Scandinavian singers (Miah Persson, Ann Hallenberg and Johannes Weisser) sang Grieg’s solo music for Anitra, Peer Gynt and Solveig in Norwegian, with singers from the BBC Singers taking smaller sung roles. The result could have been a bit of a muddle, but in fact it was magical and a dramatic revelation.
The version performed of the music was the edition by Finn Benestad from 1988, which keeps the order of the composer’s score from the premiere performance of 1876, omits the cuts and amendments from later performances, but does include corrections and uses Grieg’s fuller orchestration from the 1886 performances in Copenhagen.
Mark Minkowski is best known for his performances of French baroque music and Offenbach, though his recent Schumann symphony series has been gaining plaudits. In 2010 he conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme which paired Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. His performance of Grieg’s music had none of the stylisation which I associated with period performance specialists working with a modern orchestra. Instead he elicited from the orchestra a performance of freshness, vitality and clarity.
What Minkowski removed was the layer of Romantic gloop which can overlay this warhorse. In fact, Grieg’s music uses a variety of forces from a single violin solo emulating the traditional Hardanger fiddle through to moments with full orchestra and chorus, though the use of full orchestra was quite sparing. The composer had a very nice ear for orchestral timbres, and Minkowski brought this out. The orchestration was vivid and varied with great use made, in various ways, of the four horns.
Grieg wrote a series of small numbers, there are no really big extended musical pieces. But the small moments build into bigger dramatic structures when combined with the drama, and Grieg used thematic links too. The music that opened the Arabian scenes in act 4, the famous Morning Mood contains very distinct echoes of the music for the scene the girl in green in act 2, implying that wherever Peer Gynt is, he takes Norway with him.
Many of the small orchestral moments would get lost in a pure concert and they did contribute to the drama immensely. The way small musical elements could point up the text was a revelation. The well known movement, "Ase’s Death" was used both as a prelude to the scene of Peer’s mother’s death, but also repeated to underscore the dialogue between her and Peer in a way which rendered the drama even more poignant.
The way Grieg constructed large scale scenes is best seen in the scene in the hall of the King of the Trolls. The well known "In the Hall of the Mountain King", complete with a lively chorus part (of bad-tempered Trolls) led into a scene which mixed speech and music, including a grotesque dance for the King’s daughter. It ended with Peer Gynt fleeing, to music in which Grieg distorted the opening music, thus creating a larger and very satisfying musico-dramatic structure. Something similar is seen with the Arab scene, where a series of movements including the well known "Anitra’s Dance" and Peer’s serenade (the only time the character is required to sing) form another linked musico-dramatic whole.
The young actors were all miked, so that balance was always correct in the many melodramas. Patrick Walshe McBride was brilliantly charming as an Irish Peer Gynt, making a complete, entrancing character out of the fragments of the play allotted to him, holing us in the palm or his hand and being the focus of the drama for the whole piece. Grace Andrews played the women in Peer Gynt’s life, the Girl in Green (the daughter of the King of the Trolls), Solveig and Anitra , giving each a nicely differentiated shading. Cormac Brown was a lively King of the Trolls and other characters, Melanie Hislop had a nice nagging edge to her delivery as Ase, Peer Gynt’s mother. Tom Lincoln played all the strange characters; the Boyg (the obstacle Peer Gynt encounters), the passenger and the button moulder (the messenger of death). Apart from McBride, accents were a bit variable but all created a real feeling of drama, helped by the poised narrations of Evelyn Miller.
The smaller vocal roles were all taken by members of the BBC Singers. Micaela Haslam, Alison Smart and Olivia Robinson were cow girls calling for their Troll lovers in a beautiful little number. Andrew Rupp and Charles Gibbs were a fence and a thief in a tiny duet.
Soprano Ann Hallenberg sang the Arab maid Anitra, effectively a single solo, and tenor Johannes Weisser had a similar cameo appearance in Peer Gynt’s serenade. Frankly this was rather luxury casting and seemed an extravagance; though it was lovely to hear Weisser’s genuine Norwegian tones in the serenade. Where this luxury paid off was in the casting of Miah Persson as Solveig, singing Solveig’s Song and Solveig’s Cradle Song. Both dramatically necessary, and with Persson contributing singing that was extremely fine indeed. Her account of Solveig’s Song was profoundly beautiful, but when it was repeated, with hushed strings and with Persson off stage in a scene where Peer Gynt is hesitating outside her cottage, then the result was pure magic. The evening closed with Persson’s touching account of Solveig’s Cradle Song.
The entire performance was something of a revelation. Dramatically it worked with Grieg’s music and Ibsen’s words combining into a fascinating whole
This performance will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 iinternationally, online and on demand for seven days from Sunday 23 December 2012
The performance from Minkowski, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers had a freshness and a new minted quality which made you realise quite why Grieg’s score made such a big impression at its first performances.