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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
21 Feb 2013
Hugo Wolf, Wigmore Hall
Fun and Hugo Wolf ? Wolf's songs are the epitome of art song, due great reverence. But they're also vibrant with good-hearted wit. This latest concert in Julius Drake's ongoing "Perspectives" series at the Wigmore Hall brought together Sophie Daneman, Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake, all of whom have been working together for many years. The chemistry was almost palpable.
Given Wolf's exceptional feeling for poetry, any interpretations must be influenced by the texts he chose. In this recital, we heard songs by Eduard Mörike.and Goethe, each of which Wolf turns into a miniature opera distilled into purest form. Some of these songs are character studies like Abschied where a critic is kicked downstairs to mock waltzes and garishly manic melodies. There's so much action in this song that it could be expanded into monodrama, but Wolf doesn't overpower the simplicity of Mörike's text. Apart from the droll, and very pointed, reference to Viennese taste, Wolf writes with the precision of a Lieder composer. Even when Wolf sets more abstract texts, like Selbstgeständnis, a soliloquy where the single child considers a family dynamic different to his own, the focus is on the protagonist's inner life, and on the poem.
Wolf may have been prickly, but he was an acute observer of human life, and very empathic towards others. From Frank Walker's biography, still the best after 60 years, we get a much more rounded sense of his personality than accounts of his death might suggest. Perhaps his sensitivity to others might explain his respect for the individuality of the poets he set. Wolf's songs, be they settings of Mörike, Eichendorff, Goethe or Heyse, are informed by an interest in people and the siuations they get into. This good-hearted warmth runs throughout his work. This Wigmore Hall recital was a delight, because it connected to that fundamental humanity in Wolf's music.
Wolf creates character with great subtlety, In Agnes, for example, a young woman has a ribbon in her hat, which flutters gently in the wind. Daneman sang quietly, as a maiden might. The piano, however, expresses what a demure girl dare not say. Just as the ribbon flutters. the girl's heart beats wildly at the thought of the man who gave her the ribbon, who has now betrayed her. Often the postlude fades unnoticed, but Drake emphasizes the "fluttering" figures, reinforcing their impact by following Agnes with Lied vom Winde, where notes explode forcefully, "Sausewind, Brausewind, Dort von hier!". Drake reinforced the connection with the "fluttery" images before the final strophe. "Lieb ist wier Wind....... nicht immer beständig". This wind is capricious but not destructive. As it blows away, the words "Kindlien, Ade!" repeat three times, suggesting that winds, like love, can return. The connection was made again in An eine Äolsharfe where Drake played the postlude so beautifully that he evoked the magical world of nature spirits that inspired Eduard Mörike.
Like Wolf, Mörike had what we might today recognize as psychological issues, but he also had a jaunty sense of irreverence that gives so much of his work a defiant vitality, which Wolf picks up on. Abschied, for eample, touched on a painful subject for Wolf, who was a music critic as was Eduard Hanslick. Behind the slapstick humour in this song lies the suffering and frustration that would later drive Wolf insane. Sensitivity is important in an artist, so ill-intentioned nit-picking isn't constructive. Wolf and Mörike.suggest that an artist, being creative, will triumph over the venality around him. Bostridge's performance was superb, conveying bite as well as wit. Every consonant sharply enunciated, crisp, confident, even defiant.
Storchenbotshaft has long been a Bostridge/Drake speciality. The song is funny, and we join in the shepherd's shock as he learns he's become that father of twins. Yet the poem is Mörike, and there's an element of the supernatural. Wolf writes jerky, angular figures into the music which suggests the way storks move, but also conveys a heightened sense of excitement that borders on panic. "Ein Geistlein, ein Hexlein, so wustige Wicht", each phrase defined by just the right short gasp. Is the shepherd altogether happy? One of Bostridge's great strengths as an artist is his intuitive ability to access deep, often disturbing undercurrents in the music he sings. His Britten is exceptional. Over the years, his Wolf has developed true maturity.
In the Goethe songs, Daneman was charming. Her Blumengruß was lustrous, and her Cophtisches Lied I and II nicely articulated. Bostridge was frech und froh in the two Frech und Froh songs, and created Gutmann und Gutweib bringing out the riotous humour. For an encore, Daneman, Bostridge and Drake did an excellent Schubert Licht und Liebe (Matthäus von Collin). As duet, the words "süßes Licht" entwine deliciously.
The surprise of the evening, though, happened while Daneman sang Wolf's Epiphanias. The door behind the stage opened. In walked a boy dressed as a Wise Man, bearing a gift. He was followed by two other boys in costume, and then a little girl, dressed asd a fairy, waving a wand with a star at its apex!
The song was written on 27 December 1888, while Wolf was spending the holidays with the Köchert family. In Goethe's time and quite likely in late 19th century Vienna, household masques like this weren't unknown: indeed, Goethe staged a presentation of this very poem at Weimar in 1781. Moreover, people used to have processions door-to-door bearing a star. The parallel with Wagner's children serenading Cosima on her birthday wouldn't have been lost on Wolf if he'd known. Wolf had a long-term love affair with Melanie Köchert, with the tacit approval of her husband, Wolf's patron and friend. Evidently they all got on, so Wolf was able to rehearse the Köchert children and play the piano. The song was a gift of friendship, a love song in code. This time, at the Wigmore Hall, two of the children were Bostridges and the younger pair were Daneman's children. All four moved solemnly in time to the music, with great dignity. It was hilarious, and also magical. It showed Hugo Wolf as "family man", loving and loved. For years, I've dreamed of interpretations that would access this aspect of Wolf's idiom. Thanks to Drake, Bostridge and Daneman (and their kids), that dream is fulfilled.