Recently in Reviews
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.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
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.
31 Jan 2013
Soile Isokoski - Wigmore Hall - Sallinen
Soile Isokoski and Maria Viitasalo made a welcome return to theWigmore Hall, London. Their recital was a masterclass in what singing really should be about: not simply sound production, but the expression of meaning.
Isokoski has been singing Hugo Wolf since very early in her career.Her style is well suited to Wolf's songs. No arch artifice here, no flashy exaggeration. Isokoski's natural, unforced simplicity portrays the young women in these songs as fundamentally nice people, even when they're flirting coquettishly. Auch kleine Dinge could be interpreted with sarcasm, since the lover 's main attrribute is that he's tiny. Isokoski's gentleness breathes sincerity. "Bedenkt, wie klein ist der Olivenfrucht", she declares, then delivers the punchline "und wird um ihre Güte doch Gesucht".
Isokoski has performed Berlioz Nuits d'été (op 7) many times. This was not quite as incandescent as I've heard her sing it in the past, but as compensation it was an opportunity to concentrate on listening to her technique. Her foundations are so solid that you can admire her phrasing and carefully controlled modulation. If the lustre of her top was less than perfect, she made up for that with rich, almost mezzo warmth in the lower ranges. A voice might not be perfect at every time, but a really good singer knows when to use her strengths to communicate. No listener should expect recording-type results every time. Far better, I think, to hear someone like Isokoski manage her resources so wisely.
When Isokoski sang Richard Strauss Drei Lieder der Ophelia op 67 1918, she showed why she's such a good Strauss singer. Her Vier letzte Lieder recorded in 2003, conducted by Marek Janowski, is outstanding, even in a market full of good performances. Since Ophelia is a character from Hamlet, Strauss's settings lend themselves to dramatization. "Wie erkenn' ich mein Treulieb?" asks Isokoski sweetly, so the horror of the answer cuts sharply. "Er ist tot und lange hin". When she sings about the naked corpse in Sie trugen ihn auf der Bahre bloss, her voice transforms as if she's witnessing a miracle. "Kein Trauen bringt Gewinn". This connects to the Christian prayer in Karl Simrock's German translation.
Isokoski also regularly sings the songs of Charles Ives. Many Americans in Ives's time were recent migrants, so Isokoski's heavily accented English works rather well, creating an image of America as a vibrant melting pot. In On the Counter (1920) Ives satirizes "the same old sentimental sound" of popular songs by writing rolling circular figures for the piano. Isokoski sings the words "I love you" in such a humourous way that you can hear why Ives couldn't stand trite tunes. Not all divas can let their hair down emotionally but Isokoski hums and whistles with such gusto that she evokes the merry crowd in the opera house in Memories A) Very pleasant . This isn't the Met, full of reverence, but an "opera house" closer to the Opry, where people went to have fun and didn't care what anyone else thought.
Aulis Sallinen's Nelja laulua unesta (Four Dream Songs) (1972) are connected to his opera Ratsumies (The Horseman). There are probably more operas written in Finland than anywhere else, and Sallinen is a major composer. Soile Isokoski has made them a speciality, taking them into her repertoire at a very early stage in her career. .Anyone who has heard her sing Sibelius Luonnotar will understand why, for Sallinen's songs are powerful, unleashing supernatural, superhuman forces.
The cycle begins with a chilling piano introduction, suggesting snowfall and driving winds. A Man Made of Sleep appears, but what does he signify? The songs require extreme control of range." Hän ei nuku nukuttamalla", sings Isokoski, leaping suddenly up the scale from low, rumbling incantation. In Finnish each vowel is pronounced clearly, and there are many vowels in each word, often with umlauts. The language itself shapes this music, and Sallinen repeats phrases to maximize the impact. "Nukkuu unta näkemättä, ei sitä uni herätä" (he is sleeping without dreaming, no dreaming will awake him). The pace cannot be rushed, syllables must resonate.
The third song, On kolme unta susäkkäin (Three dreams each within each) is perhaps the most disturbing and unsettling piece in the group. The piano tolls a staccato sequence, while the voice intones mysteriously. A woman is dreaming and within her womb, an unborn child is dreaming, too. The mood is desolate, and Isokoski sings as if she's chanting a rune. "Minun täytyy syntyä ja koul" (I must be born and must die). Yet the line rises sharply upward, Isokoski's voice reaching crescendi before the sudden mood change in the last phrase. From thence, it's as if something powerful has been released. The final song is Ei mikään virta, (There is no stream that journeys so swiftly as life itself). The final song hurtles forward. Words are repeated urgently,turbulently, Isokoski's voice crisp and agile. "Kulkeva, kulkeva" (moving, moving) was enunciated high and clear despite the choppy pace. A tour de force, greatly appreciated.