Recently in Reviews
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
09 Jan 2013
In the Shadow of the Opéra
Graham Johnson chose the title "In the Shadow of the Opéra" for his recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, with Lucy Crowe and Christopher Maltman. Given the renaisaance in French opera, it's good that we should be thinking of the nature of French song and its relationship to French opera and culture.
This was an extremely ambitious programme. A friend, who has been going to the Wigmore Hall for 40 years, exclaimed "Some of this material we don't know!" There was so much to take in that it will take time to fully sink in.
Johnson divided his recital into four main themes : On Wings of Song (Love in flight), Mélodies and arias, Vers le sud (Exoticism) and Seascapes and Landscapes. The first two sections focussed on form, the last two on subject matter.
First, he focussed on lyrical mélodies like Charles Gounod's Tombez mes ailes! The image is of a butterfly in joyful flight, but to protect her offspring, she must tear off her own wings and die. It's a metaphor for the artist who must struggle and sacrifice in order that art might grow. The gravitas of the final line undercuts the flightiness that's gone before. Christopher Maltman sang the final line "Il faut vieller, et travailler" with great force. Just as Maltman's voice is dark, Lucy Crowe's voice is every light and sweet, good for a 19th century heroine. In this section she sang light-hearted uieces like Massenet's Le sais-tu? and Reynaldo Hahn's Si mes vers avaient des ailes. This made Maltman's songs have stronger impact : Georges Bizet's La Coccinelle (to a poem by Victor Hugo) gave Maltman a chance to show his skills as a character actor. The ladybird has such personality she could become a role in music theatre. Songs like Lucien Hillemacher's Villanelle lay too high for him, but the point was made : there's more to singing than getting the notes right.
Théodore Dubois (1837-1924) was one of the most successful composers of his day, but was despised by the young Gabriel Fauré, one of Pauline Viardot's inner circle. Johnson pertinently laced Dubois's Madrigal with Fauré's Fleur jetée. Dubois' delicate lyricism outclassed by Fauré's pounding rhythms. Ironically, Madrigal is more conventionally a piece for the theatre and Maltman dramatized it well. Dubois's poet, Henry Murger, inspired Puccini's La bohème. Fleur jetée, however, is by far the more distinctive piece in musical terms, which is why it's fairly well known and a favourite of many high sopranos. But it's not really a piece for big houses, and Lucy Crowe's voice was challenged by the loud crescendo in the final line. Johnson followed the song with Fauré's La chanson du pêcheur, which Maltman delivered in an almost conversational style. This you could imagine embedded in a larger work. Debussy's Apparition (Mallarmé), with its watery imagery and sparkling piano textures, suggested Pelléas et Mélisande, though it was written as early as 1884. It's even less sympathetic to voice, set extremely high in the style of the time. Massenet had the last laugh though, with a splendid duet Horace et Lydie (1886) to a poem by Albert de Musset. Mélodie or aria? The song describes Horace and Lydie's past romance, the voices deftly cutting across each other. At the end, they resolve their dilemma and sing in harmony.
One of the key themes in French culture is Orientalisme. It was a means of exploring "unknown territory" in many ways. Orientalism garbed ideas in strange, alien ways, so artists could express unusual thoughts in dramatic context. Strangely, there was no Délibes in this recital but we had Hector Berlioz Zaïde (1845) a florid narravtive song set in Granada and the palace of Aladdin "qui vaut Cordovie et Séville!" More Gounod, too. Maltman sang Maid of Athens (1872) partly in English because the text is Lord Byron, but the chorus is in Greek, reflecting Byron's passion for Greek independence. Two "exotic" languages in one song. Giacomo Meyerbeer's Mina (1837) is a jolly piece, fine for music theatre. Perhaps I'm the only person to have discovered Meyerbeer through his songs (excellent recording by Thomas Hampson) but at least that made me appreciate how interesting his work can be.
Xavier Leroux (1863-1919) was a new discovery for me, because Le Nil (1890) is a gorgeous song, intensely atmospheric. Lucy Crowe sang the mysterious introduction quietly, just above a whisper, so we could imagine we were floating along the Nile at night in a small boat. The poet, Armand Renaud, contrasts the bacarolle with the image of the Great Sphinx and the wide plain beyond the river. Thw lovers and their moment of happiness dwarfed by vast historic forces, A beautiful song I'd like to hear again. Two songs about guitars completed the section - Eduard Lalo's Guitare (1885) and Camille Saint-Saëns Guitarres et mandolines.
Operas on the grand scale can evoke huge panoramas of time and space. But so can song. Bizet's Douce mer (1867 )(Lamartine) and Fauré's Les Bercaux (1879) (Proudhomme), are charming mood pieces, the former embellished with an exotic cry which suggests that the Mediterranean setting might even be North Africa. Debussy's Nuit d'étoiles was perhaps the best known song in the recital, pleasantly done, if the phrasing and intensity wasn't quite up to the standards of, say, Véronique Gens or others who have made it a trademark. Massenet's Joie (1868) (Camille Distel) ended the evening on a cheerful note, but Johnson and his singers wisely chose to repeat Saint-Saëns Viens! (1855) (Victor Hugo) as an encore. It's an enjoyable duet where the voices intertwine rather like traditional rounds. So perhaps folk song got its way into this programme after all.