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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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
23 Jan 2013
Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall - Warlock, Britten
Surveying British chamber and instrumental music written between the 1890s and WWII, the Nash Ensemble’s Wigmore Hall residency series, Dreamers of Dreams, has illuminated the creativity and originality of British musical life during this period, revealing the shared and the idiosyncratic preoccupations of composers; the intertwined biographies of musicians; the influence of key individual performers on repertoire, style and idiom; the dialogue between old and new; and the prevailing shadows of war and irreversible change.
This recital was enriched by all these elements, its constituent works informed by an interest in the nation’s folk traditions as well as Celtic romanticism and custom; by expanding boundaries and new musical and geographical horizons; by elegiac melancholy and also by optimism, freshness and renewal.
The desolate tones of Peter Warlock’s darkly prophetic The Curlew, for tenor, flute, cor anglais and string quartet, dominated the first half of the concert. Setting four poems by W.B. Yeats, Warlock evokes an almost unalleviated mood of despair; much of the vitality of the music derives from the composer’s uncannily apposite setting of the text, and tenor Mark Padmore’s eloquent, unmannered delivery of the rhythmically elaborate text did much to communicate the vividness and immediacy of the work. The opening instrumental mood-painting was moving and atmospheric: the plangent cor anglais (Gareth Hulse) announcing the eponymous bird’s plaintive lament, answered by the gentle repetitive murmuring of the flute’s peewit (Philippa Davies). The players adroitly established the bleak vista before the first, delayed entry of the voice, “O curlew, cry no more in the air”. Throughout the instrumental fabric was clearly articulated, both solos and ensemble presenting thematic wisps with delicacy and dolefulness - a perfect illustrative backdrop for the melancholic texts. The string players wove an intricate web of tremolo and sul ponticello traceries, complementing the woodwind’s mournful diminuendos and echoes.
Padmore shaped the vocal lines intelligently, although perhaps he did not fully reveal the emotional disturbance at the heart of the work, for the text and score demand that we be truly discomforted and perturbed. But there was affecting contrast and drama. With the opening of final stanza of ‘The Withering of the Boughs’, the tenor evoked tentative intimations of hope and new life, warmed by a string rocking motif, which was then immediately and unequivocally destroyed by the voice’s exposed quasi parlando repetition: “The boughs have withered because I have told them my dreams.” The composer instructs the singer to use a “low tone - almost a whisper” and Padmore executed this challenging line with consummate control.
Yeats’ pensive Celtic lyricism and the plaintive cor anglais colouring of Warlock’s songs harked back to the opening work of the evening, Arnold Bax’s Oboe Quintet, the melodies of which mimic, though do not quote, Irish folksong and dance. Composed at the end of 1922, this composition was pioneering in its integration of oboe and strings. In the opening movement, Gareth Hulse’s wistful oboe figures rose with graceful melancholy from the strings’ introductory elegiac chords; and the muted pianissimo ending - the upper strings’ tranquillity disturbed by the cello’s insistent repetitions and the oboe’s final curlicue - was spell-binding.
But, while asked to create an endless range of textures and timbres, the strings do more than simply accompany. In the second movement, violinist Marianne Thorson spun a silky espressivo thread, accompanied by rich string chords, a beautiful contrast to the subsequent improvisatory flourishes from the oboe. Laurence Power conveyed the power and vitality of Bax’s writing for the viola. Moreover, despite the prevailing ambience of lament, lively folk gestures and rhythms provide energy and drive, culminating in an animated, jig-like final movement. The shadow of war darkens the hues of the closing bars, however, and the Nash Ensemble brought the piece to a sober, forlorn, but not sentimental, conclusion.
Britten’s Songs from the Chinese for voice and guitar followed the interval. These ancient texts, with their mild formality and distance, suited Padmore perfectly. In ‘The Old Lute’ - a setting of Arthur Waley’s translation of a poem by Emperor Wu-ti of the Han dynasty, who ruled more than 2000 years ago - Padmore floated the higher pitches and elongated the syllables to create a calm quietness, evoking the sound of the lute, now dusty and faded, but whose sound “is still cold and clear”. In contrast, the rhythm drive of Wu-ti’s ‘The Autumn Wind’, with its short phrases and vigorous consonants, enabled the tenor to re-create the dynamism of the racing wind, and to evoke the unstoppable momentum of passing time. Guitarist Craig Ogden sculpted crystalline accompaniments, establishing a fitting airiness and transparency. Together the performers ensured that the concentrated focus of the songs, and the formal and thematic unity of Britten’s score, was clearly communicated.
The evening ended with a rare opportunity to hear Vaughan Williams’ C Minor string quartet of 1898. Although one senses the young composer searching for an individual musical voice - the influence of Dvorak, Brahms and Tchaikovsky is evident - there is much of merit in these four movements, and the medium is convincingly handled, the string textures accomplished. The inner movements, Andantino and Intermezzo: Allegretto characteristically make use of Elizabethan modality and English folksong to create a meditative ambience, while the Variazione con finale fugato which concludes the work is a rhythmically invigorating presto. The four string players of the Nash Ensemble gave a committed performance of what essentially feels like ‘work in progress’; the ensemble work and attention to detail was exemplary and the players exhibited considerable technical mastery.
Given the thoughtfulness and imagination which has clearly informed the Nash Ensemble’s programming throughout this series, the inclusion of Elgar’s three tuneful yet rather light-weight violin encores - Salut d’Amour, Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit - seemed an odd decision. Thorsen and Ian Brown (piano) performed them with refinement and artistry but the works seemed out of context here.