Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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
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