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 Jan 2013
Echoes of Venice
The opening concert of the Wigmore Hall’s spring season exemplified the high standards of intelligent musicianship and imaginative programming so typical of the Hall’s artists. Soprano Carolyn Sampson and theorbo player Matthew Wadsworth presented a thoughtful, inventive programme, ‘Echoes of Venice’, alternating tender and impassioned songs of love with striking instrumental pieces.
Monteverdi’s ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’ (‘So sweet is the torment’) perfectly expresses the Renaissance paradox of the exquisite pain of love. An ambitious, extensive instrumental ground accompanies a largely unadorned vocal line. Fittingly the fresh, open simplicity of Sampson’s floating high notes were complemented by a slightly more enriched lower register. But, although the sentiment of the text was supremely captured, and nuances of tone employed to convey the peaks of intensity — ‘Per foco e per gelo/ Riposo non ho’ (‘between fire and ice/ I have no rest’) — it was a pity that Sampson so neglected the consonants; for her ornamentation was delicate and judicious, complementing the theorbo’s more dramatic inflections and articulation, and she and Wadsworth built to a deep, affecting warmth for the pining lover’s final expression of hope that his passion will one day be reciprocated.
The first half of the recital was dominated by the music of Barbara Strozzi, a singer and the composer of eight volumes of, chiefly secular, vocal music published in Venice between 1644 and 1664. Sampson and Wadsworth made a convincing case for her to be considered more than a ‘historical novelty’, revealing the grace and spontaneity of Strozzi’s style, the musical motif and form responding naturally and intuitively to the text. In ‘Rissolvetevi, pensieri’ (‘Resolve, thoughts’), the poet-speaker’s troubled restlessness is conveyed by the vocal repetition of melodic and rhythmic phrases, as Strozzi frequently repeats small units of text creating a complex, lengthy aria. Sampson’s vibrato-light soprano nimbly tumbled with lucid fluidity through falling triadic shapes above Wadsworth’s searching, wandering bass line.
Although the title-pages of all but one of Strozzi’s books of madrigals announce their contents as ‘arie’, ‘ariette’ or ‘cantate’, in fact her works employ a diversity of style and form and the extended ‘L’amante segreto’ (‘The secret lover’) — its refrain built on a descending tetrachord — is more ‘operatic’ in impact. A richly inflected recitative-like idiom, as the singer urges herself to have courage and fortitude in the face of fear, contrasted powerfully with the quiet stillness of Sampson’s admission, ‘Ma io voglio morire/ Piuttosto ch’il mio mal venga a scopire’ (‘But I would rather die/ than that my sickness come to be discovered’). Wadsworth was not afraid to signal such changes of mood with surprising sharpness of attack and dynamic variation. The concluding entreaty to Cupid to throw down his mighty arrows revealed the moving rich depth of Sampson’s mezzo, which she also put to excellent use in ‘Che si può fare’ (‘What can be done’). In the latter, the performers obviously enjoyed the increasingly piquant dissonances — as the singer laments what can be done if heaven refuses to relieve her suffering and the planets rain down disasters — before such restless anxiety was ultimately resolved in a sweet tierce de picardie.
‘Che si può fare’ shares its lengthy ground with Giovanni Kapsberger’s ‘Passacaglia’ from the Libro quarto d’intavolatura di chitarrone, and Wadsworth effected a seamless transition between the preceding instrumental number and Strozzi’s song. This was one of several instrumental interludes interspersed between the vocal items, and while such repertoire is somewhat limited in expressive range, the toccatas, chaconnes and dances of Kapsberger and Alessandro Piccinini offered a pleasant contrast. Wadsworth’s decorative traceries were articulated with relaxed ease, as melodic motifs came to the fore and then were subsumed once more within the elaborate accompanying textures, suggesting hidden mysteries. Piccinini’s ‘Corrente terza’ was particularly notable for Wadsworth’s light, rhythmic finger work and the effective use of contrasting registers.
Francesca Caccini, the daughter of the virtuoso singer and composer, Guilio, was probably the most prominent and successful female musician of the period, and her ‘Lasciatemi qui solo’ followed the interval. ‘Leave me here alone’ begins the singer, and this was indeed an intimate, restrained rendering, the stillness only occasionally enlivened by gentle expressive flourishes. A brief moment of energy — ‘Felicissimi amanti/ Tornate al bel diletto’ (‘Happiest lovers,/ return to fair pleasure’) — gestured by a sudden change in the accompaniment texture, immediately gave way to languid minor-key yearning for death, Sampson’s final colourless whisper, ‘Gia sono esangu’e smorto’ (‘I am already bloodless and pale’), seemingly fulfilling the poet’s desire.
Despite the similarly despairing title of Benedetto Ferrari’s ‘Voglio di vita uscir’ (‘I wish to leave life’), a joyful lightness characterises this song and betrays the poet-speaker’s insistent avowals as a deliberate ploy to win his lover’s affection, and it offered a welcome moment of playfulness. Strozzi’s ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’ (‘Amorous Heraclitus’), a dramatic ‘scena’ was notable for the flexibility of Sampson’s recitative and the rich sheen of the more lyrical moments. Here, as throughout, there was an impressive degree of communication before the performers.
Playing straight from the heart, Sampson and Wadsworth presented a thoughtful, enchanting selection of little-known seventeenth-century music, always alert to nuances of phrase and colour, but never mannered or overly ostentatious. The performers’ evident pleasure in this music was undoubted matched by the charmed Wigmore Hall audience.
[Monteverdi ‘Sí dolce è’l tormento’; Strozzi ‘Rissolvetevi pensieri’; Piccinini Toccata X, Ciaccona in Partite Variate; Strozzi ‘L’amante segreto’; Kapsberger Passacaglia from Libro quarto d'intavolatura di chitarrone; Strozzi ‘Che si può fare’; Caccini ‘Lasciatemi morire’; Ferrari ‘Voglio di vita uscir’; Piccinini Toccata VI, Partite variate sopra quest’ aria francese detta l’Alemana, Corrente terza; Strozzi ‘L’Eraclito amoroso’.]
Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo; Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 3rd January, 2013