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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
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.