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On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.