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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Kyungho Kim as Harlequin | A soldier and Rowan Hellier as The drummer [Photo by Barbara Braun courtesy of Staatsoper Berlin]
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.

Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin

A review by Rebecca Schmid

Above: Kyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat and Rowan Hellier as Der Trommler

Photos by Barbara Braun courtesy of Staatsoper Berlin


The 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.

MuTphoto_2312.jpgKyungho 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.

Rebecca Schmid

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