Recently in Performances
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. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
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.
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.
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.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
10 Feb 2013
Die Entfûhrung aus dem Serail in Montpellier
The fearsome Ottoman Turks had threatened the Austrian borders for centuries. But Mozart’s little singspiel makes light of this truly serious situation, and offers a quite enlightened resolution for the conflict as well.
Shall we say naive resolution. After all the complexly human trilogy is yet to come, and the Magic Flute will be just that — a fantasy. So let Abduction’s Pasha forgive and forget, and don’t argue with operatic idealism. This new production of Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece forgets any and all intriguing political or dramatic contexts. It merely frames this simplistic singspiel as a work of art to be admired, like a late 18th century painting in a museum.
Metteur en scène Alfredo Arias and scenographer Roberto Platé, both Argentine, used a huge gilded frame as the back drop, framing only sky because it was the ceiling of a grand old room turned on its side (the floor of the stage had some windows as did the stage ceiling). The why of this witty perspective seems to be just because.
French high fashion designer Adeline André abstracted early twentieth century shapes for the very witty costumes (Osmin, the Pasha’s chauffeur with greatly exaggerated glove cuffs, Pedrillo in a bright green shirt with a black leather bistro apron, Konstanze in light blue high 40’s design pumps as prime examples). Mozart’s six principals spent most of the time on the fore stage, sometimes wrapping themselves in the Opéra Comedie’s red velvet house curtain, sometimes in front of or behind a painted scrim that echoed the framed sky and flew in and out now and again.
Of course the staging was not nonsense any more than Mozart’s singspiel is nonsense. The 25 year-old Mozart simply exploded musically. The explosion happened in the pit. About 30 players from the Orchestre National de Montpellier formed the absolutely splendid pit ensemble, the wooden mallets on the period tympani used for this occasion defined the musical grit and edge. The pizzicato strings of Pedrillo’s Romance, in fact the whole of this extended scene, sounded with nearly boom box resonance. The architecturally magnificent 1200 seat Opéra Comédie burst with musical magnificence.
Hungarian conductor Balázs Kocsár was the musical force, never overwhelming the naive joy of Mozart’s little opera with his own or Mozart’s self importance, finding instead a rhythmic release and musical elaboration that told of the young composer’s newly found independence — from a tyrannical patron and a smothering father — and the young composer’s discovery of love — for first Aloysia and then Constanze Weber. Joyous excitement that Mo. Kocsár made flow from the pit in intense, always lyric tempos.
Vocal explosion happened on the stage when German soprano Cornelia Gôtz brought the energy and furious excitement of Mozart’s future Queen of the Night to the headstrong Konstanze, imposing her prodigious vocal technique on what is surely Mozart’s most demanding role, and making it vocally vivid and dramatically real. Mozart’s famous show stopper “Martern aller Arten” was far more than a virtuoso feat, it was gigantic emotional release.
It was sublime music making indeed when this maestro joined this soprano to discover the happiness that Mozart exudes in his first Viennese years.
Metteur en scène Arias provided dramatically abstract staging, stage movement based on musical phrase rather than story telling illustration. All movement was choreographed, an aria about or influenced by another character was always sung in the physical presence of that character. Mozart’s gigantic Act II quartet “Ach, Belmonte, Ach, mein leben” was rendered in purely formal geometric shapes, rigidly symmetrical. Choristers in the Act I finale construed themselves in a formal pattern on the stage dressed in concert blacks. Mr. Arias staged which is to say choreographed every last second of music. It was effective when it was not tiresome.
Czech bass Jan Stava made chauffeur liveried Osmin a charming, positive presence with just a hint of menace. Stage director Arias‘ choreography allowed none of the classic schtick. The young bass attacked his mindboggling "O, wie will ich triumphieren" with confident bravado and succeeded as well as anyone with its coloratura and range challenges.
American tenor Jeff Martin as Pedrillo exemplified the arbitrary casting possible in this mise en scène, musically rather than character driven. In this witty casting it was not the usual ingénu Pedrillo, Mr. Martin these days sings Wagner's Mime here and there, plus Rosenkavalier’s Valzacchi at the Bolshoi! Pedrillo’s complications to Mozart’s silly story were therefore a bit less naive and a lot less romantic and a far more structural. The same may be said of the Blonde sung by Norwegian soprano Trine Wilsberg Lund.
Mlle. Lund however did not achieve the elegant lyricism that the maestro afforded his singers, never quite capturing the beat of his lyric flow. On the other hand American tenor Wesley Rogers as Belmonte did sing musically, and nearly mastered the spirit of the stage movement. After an impressive start he seemed very tired by the third act, understandable as the vocal demands of the role are considerable.
And finally Pacha Selim exploded, as musically as if there had been music [his lines are spoken]. Swiss actor Markus Merz let it rip in hochdeutsch. There had been mercifully little dialogue, with the obvious frustration that the spoken German was not a language most of us understood. When Mr. Merz had his moment he made it compete as best he could with some of the world’s most joyful music.
Cast and Production
Konstanze: Cornelia Gôtz; Belmonte: Wesley Rogers; Blonde: Trine Wilsberg Lund; Pedrillo: Jeff Martin; Osmin: Jan Stava; Pacha Selim: Markus Merz. Chorus of the Opéra National Montpellier. Members of the Orchestra National Montpellier. Conductor: Balázs Kocsár; Mise en scène: Alfredo Arias; Scenery: Roberto Platé; Costumes: Adeline André; Lighting: Jacques Rouveyrollis. Opéra Comédie, Montpellier. February 5, 2013.