Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
18 Mar 2013
Götterdämmerung at the Staatsoper Berlin
In the final of scene of Götterdämmerung in a new production at
the Staatsoper Berlin, Brünnhilde appears in a flowing pink gown just as the
music has modulated and penetrates the hall of the Gibichungs, represented by
rows of glowing translucent boxes that preserve the dismembered limbs of their
She unfastens the ring—here represented as a sequined hand—from
the arm of Siegfried’s corpse, and moves regally upstage. When video
projections of fire onto a shiny back wall cede to blue swirls of water—the
Rhine overflowing after Valhalla has burned to ash—the fading, ghostly image
of a woman with her mouth agape hovers like a virtual nightmare. A crowd of
Gibichungs, dressed in drab civil suits with touches of barbaric fur, turn
toward the back wall and stare at an image of excavated human remains. As their
expressions reveal signs of cognizance, a giant replica of the marble relief
Human Passions by Jef Lambeaux, a depiction of nude bodies writhing
somewhere between heaven and hell, descends and traps the action behind it.
As program notes by the dramaturge Michael Steinberg explain, this image has
provided a kind of Leitmotif for the Ring cycle by stage team
Guy Cassiers and Enrico Bagnoli, which has unfolded in epic fashion over the
past three years in co-production with La Scala. The opening instalment,
Das Rheingold, culminated in a video projection of the full image; in
Die Walküre, it mutates into a twisting, multi-media pile of bodies.
Cassiers, the director, has set out to address globalization in an age of
virtual reality and pornographic violence, adopting with Bagnoli a streamlined
yet abstract aesthetic. Laser-like red lines that designate warfare in
Walküre reappear as the fragile network (or destiny rope) of the
Norns in Götterdämmerung, and rows of white spears that serve as a
canvas for flickering video projections descend to drive home the notion of
While the visual symbolism of Cassiers and Bagnoli is sometimes too
conceptual to connect with its intellectual underpinnings—now a black mass
which spreads like an expressionist painting when Siegfried makes a blood oath
with Günther, now a woman who sticks her computerized tongue out at the
audience—the production scores a triumph in the use of light-dark imagery to
mirror the archetypal forces at play, underscoring the music rather than
overwhelming it with images. The restraint bordered on excessive for the
opening scene in the shadowy hall of the Gibichungs, designated by a simple
metal wall and a box of glowing limbs, and it took a moment to realize that a
group of dancers on their knees behind Siegfried represented Grane,
Brünnhilde’s horse. Yet choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was
surprisingly effective when the bodies draped themselves in black cloth and
transformed into the Tarnhelm, the magic helmet which allows Siegfried to still
the ring from Brünnhilde. Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen, with a modernist
take on Lederhosen for the leading Gibichungs and leather motorcycle
get-up for Siegfried, add to the dystopic vision.
Ian Storey as Siegfried and Marina Poplavskaya as Gutrune with the State Opera Chorus
If the production leans too heavily on the audience’s powers of
imagination, Daniel Barenboim, currently music director in both Berlin and
Milan, fills the vacuum with the sharpest insight into dramatic nuance. The
Staatskapelle swelled and subsided with organic ease as the score soared from
subterranean tunnels to celestial plains, mutating like the ring’s magical
forces to accommodate each singer. Irène Theorin, the cycle’s Brünnhilde in
all instalments, threatened to burst the walls of the Schiller Theater when her
seasoned Wagnerian soprano broke out from its round timbre into a screech, but
she inhabited the role of the mortalized goddess with an affecting blend of
dignity, hysteria and vengeance. In the role of Siegfried, Ian Storey, a tenor
of higher vintage than the previous installment’s Lance Ryan last fall,
struggled with a wobble in the opening scenes but warmed up to give an
indomitable performance of the hero before he is stabbed in the back by Hagen.
As the evil Gibichung, Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko was an increasingly
ominous presence, spitting out his words with villainous resolve in the
soliloquy “Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht.”
It was a surprise to hear Marina Poplavskaja, a dramatic soprano who has
forged an international career in roles such as Desdemona and Violetta, portray
Gutrune—who drugs Siegfried with a magic potion in order to separate him from
Brünnhilde—but her voice poured out clearly above Barenboim’s sensitive
conducting and captured the Gibichung’s wicked wiles. She also gave a
pleasant account of the Second Norn. Marina Prudenskaya gave an affecting
performance as the Valykrie, Waltraute, who beseeches Brünnhilde to give back
the ring to the Rhinemaidens, and as the Third Norn. The mezzo Margarita
Nekrasova, in the role of the First Norn, did not blend easily but evoked
impending pathos with a more typically Wagnerian voice. Aga Mikolaj, Maria
Gortsevskaya, and Ann Lapkovskaja made for a seductive, youthful trio as the
Rhinemaidens. Even at the Twilight of the Gods, Cassiers’ vision ends the
cycle with the possibility for atonement. Despite the horrors the human race
has wracked upon the environment and itself, it can learn from the past and
Click here for cast and production information.