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.
23 Dec 2012
Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?
Well, so many don’t nowadays, it appears to me, judging by the critical
reception of Robert le Diable at the ROH. Rum-ti-tum? We recall
Macbeth, Rigoletto, Trov and even Trav being characterised
thus, popular fare but risible or blush- making, yet those works now command
the highest respect.
True, Meyerbeer lacks the high melodic genius of Verdi,
whose every work is both obviously his yet paradoxically also has its own
unique sound world; but I think the problem is not that. We are out of sympathy
with the social world for which such works were conceived.
Marina Poplavskaya as Alice and John Relyea as Bertram
Long, leisurely five-acters? Plots elevated to the level of the hieratic?
Above all comfortable plushness, with little apparent intellectual bite? All
that suited opera audiences of the time, but something more is needed for
survival, and you don’t have to listen very hard to discern it. Skill in the
construction of a theatre piece, to start with: how different do the two long
scenes between Bertram/Raimbaut and Bertram/Alice sound, for instance,
reflecting Bertram’s manipulation of each of these victims and their
differing reactions (no pushover, she); how each character is delineated
through the music, their unfolding scenas certainly not generic as is
the libretto; how atmospheric are the orchestral passages, even though perhaps
some might long for Weber.
All this would go for naught, of course, without a fine performance. Do you
ever have that feeling, when the lights dim and the first notes arise, that all
will be well this evening, and there is nowhere else you would rather be? It
was that way on Saturday last, softly bathed in pellucid sound (Daniel Oren
conducting) perfectly judged for the auditorium, without that muddiness that
often tells you you’re in for a sticky ride; above all the singers had the
measure of the style: to my ear French display opera has a certain chic
restraint, without the glitz of its Italian counterpart, and whilst Damrau
would have been starrier, Ciofi (yes, an Italian) was most touching, every
cadence perfectly placed. Poplavskaya excelled herself, with an unusual
combination of staunchness and thrilling ease; Hymel paid Meyerbeer the
compliment of taking him seriously, and was utterly believable in the role,
which he made seem child’s play to sing; Relyea has been seriously
undervalued, and Jean-Francois Borras was a delightful new discovery for me.
And the Chorus excelled themselves.
A scene from Robert le Diable
Which brings me to Laurent Pelly’s production. When it comes to the
chorus, modern directors seem to model themselves on Eisenstein. Here there is
a difference: Pelly’s chorus is sometimes Greek, hovering en masse, but
always in articulated geometrical forms — think Pina Bausch dance, where we
see individuals impelled however to move in unison. So in Act 1 we see the
knights tightly choreographed but moving like lava when the occasion demands;
later they assume a diamond formation, as if grouped in a giant boardgame.
Sounds odd, maybe, but it has the effect of throwing the main characters into
individual relief, and aiding the flow of the plot.
The nuns’ music surprised me (I must have been confusing them with
Casanova’s); it is hard to guess what the original movement must
have been, but the costumes were closely modelled on lithographs of that time,
the music perhaps self-indulgently long and unvaried, the dancers nicely
distinguished even if all in the same plight. Only ten, on this big space? I
thought; but then the whole chorus flooded on, swamping the stage, even more
deshabilles, and equally frantic, in a splendid coup de
théâtre. Costumes might well have been taken from contemporary
miniatures; settings from prints of the time (the stage department excelled
itself in their manipulation).
I came away elated, thinking that the composer had achieved an integrated
piece of work on a high level, with that afterglow you get following a really
good meal. I guess that’s what the original audiences felt too. Will
Meyerbeer catch on? Don’t put money on it. Maybe you have to be a bourgeois
Marxist to like it?!
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