Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
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.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
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’.
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.
02 Feb 2013
Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin
Recent seasons have seen a surge in so-called ‘Holocaust
operas,’ from Peter Androsch’s Spiegelrund, which
premiered in Vienna last week, to Mieczysław Weinberg’s The
Passenger, unveiled with a half-century of delay in Bregenz in 2010.
topic of Nazi politics may be bone-chilling, but when written by survivors,
allows for some emotional distance and reflection. Meanwhile, history has
bequeathed us what may be considered a Holocaust opera in the true sense of the
word. The Staatsoper Berlin is currently performing Viktor Ullmann’s
Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis),which was penned at
the concentration camp Theresienstadt to a libretto by Peter Kien just before
the authors were transported to Auschwitz in 1944. The chamber opera premiered
in Amsterdam 31 years after their death.
Theresienstadt served as both a transit post and a kind of sham for the
extent of the SS forces’ brutality. Leo Baeck, Pavel Haas, and Gideon
Klein count among the conscripted intelligentsia at the ‘model
ghetto,’ where Ullmann was engaged as an official music critic. A
freelance musician schooled in Schönbergian composition, the Silesian native
found himself with more time to compose than ever before. His score creates a
dizzying, but organic blend of serialist passages, sardonic cabaret, and
Mahleresque harmonies while subversively weaving in melodies such as ‘Ein
feste Burg ist unser Gott’ in the final chorus. It is an at once
harrowing and uplifting setting of Kien’s libretto, which provides a
vivid depiction of the inner turmoil but resignation a prisoner found in the
end of life as he knew it.
The story in some ways calls to Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in
its montage-like structure and ambiguous treatment of death. A Loudspeaker
announces in the prologue that the living can no longer laugh and the dying can
no longer lament. Harlekin, better known as Arlecchino, the commedia
dell’arte stock character, is so bored that he begs Death to his
duty. But Death has decided to condemn mortals to eternal life. Kaiser Overall,
whose resemblance to Hitler prevented further rehearsals of the opera in the
summer of 1944, is informed by telephone of a plague whereby none of his
soldiers can die. Only when the war is over does Death, “the
gardener…the final lullaby,” deliver the world from pestilence.
The story further includes a drummer, a soldier and a girl named Bubbikopf.
Kyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat, Gyula Orendt as Kaiser Overall and Alin Anca as Der Lautsprecher | Der Tod
The Staatsoper staging by Mascha Pörzgen, seen January 29 at the
company’s Werkstatt, a small wing used for new music theater,
recreates the opera’s surreal qualities while maintaining a tasteful dose
of aesthetic restraint. The roles of Death and the Loudspeaker are cast with a
single bass-baritone (the tireless Alin Anca), who is wheeled in on a
motor-driven stool before revealing the garb of terrorist-like solider. His
exchanges with the sad clown-faced Harlekin are appropriately ambivalent, while
the Drummer assumes the presence of a caricature as she walks through the scene
beating wooden spoons mid-air. Kaiser Overall is a psychotic bureaucrat who
occupies the only hollow space in an all-white set (designs by Cordelia
Matthes). The proscenium moves in closer to the audience following
Harlekin’s eerie lullaby “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.”
The cast, all members of the Staatsoper’s international opera studio,
gave a tight, convincing performance despite vocal unevenness. Anca carried the
show with theatrical verve and a booming bass that at times risked being too
loud for the space. As Harlekin and the soldier in the third scene, Kyungho Kim
did not rise to the same standards of sound quality and diction but was a
moving presence. The soprano Rowan Hellier gave a stand-out performance as the
Drummer, while Narine Yeghiyan, in the role of Bubbikopf, at times sounded
strained. Gyula Orendt gave an earnest performance as the Kaiser. Felix Krieger
led an elegant reading of the score with an ensemble of the Staatskapelle,
although the musicians’ position on a landing to the side of the stage
was not always ideal acoustically (drowning out Orendt in his final aria, the
very Mahlerian ‘Von allem, was geschieht’).The unearthly final
chorus could have been drawn out with more nostalgia, while the counterpoint of
a repeated, descending violin melody gave chills down the spine.
Der Kaiser von Atlantis runs through February 9.