20 Mar 2013
I Lombardi, UC Opera London
Don’t miss UC Opera’s I Lombardi at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
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.
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 Threshold”.
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 performance!
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.
Don’t miss UC Opera’s I Lombardi at the Bloomsbury Theatre.
I Lombardi and Nabucco are almost companion pieces, and the Royal Opera House is doing Nabucco from 30th March, on a much grander scale, for Nabucco suits grand designs.
Visually, the UC Opera I Lombardi is so striking that it would stun audiences in bigger houses with better facilities. The drama starts with a simple, dark backdrop, a monochrome tower, a bright telephone box. The impact is immediate. Verdi set I Lombardi at the time of the First Crusade to conceal its message at a time when much of Italy, once the seat of the Roman Empire, was ruled by foreign powers.This isn't really a battle between Lombardy and Antioch. The Lombards are tearing each other apart with rivalries, rather than facing their true enemies. In Verdi's time, Italy was a disunited conglomeration of small states that could not rise above petty self-interest towards a greater goal.
Although Christian themes dominate the opera, I Lombardi is not anti-Muslim as such. Oronte, the prince of Antioch, becomes a Christian without much inner anguish. One can read a nod here to Italian nationalism, since Italians dominated the church, although the Austrians, also Catholic, dominated the state in Northern Italy.Verdi must have been aware of the impact Griselda's hymn to the Virgin Mary would have on audiences. Caught up in reverence, they might, for a moment, forget the pettiness of worldly values and unite in the contemplation of more noble ideals. In the chorus "Jerusalem !", nearly everyone on stage joins in unison, transfixed by the vision before them.
This staging, designed by Will Bowen, directed by Jamie Hayes, and produced by Rosie Hughes, places the action in a land that hovers between modernity and a fading memory of the past, just as Giselda inhabits an alien land far away from her origins. Phone booths are relics. We don't communicate like that much now. This is an allusion to the theme of nostalgia that runs through the opera and fuels visions of an idealized future. The Tower is a Victorian photo of a real pub in The City of London, which you can still visit.. Once it was a tavern where cock fighting took place. It's a subtle detail but cogent. The Lombards are acting out a cock-fight on a grand scale.
Ellan Parry's costumes also follow this theme of unspecified timelessness. We could be at any time in the last century, or in the present. The men wear sharp suits, as so many Italians aspire to, but preen themselves on machismo. Without true religion, crusaders are no more than street gangs spreading their turf. At the end, chorus and remaining soloists stand together, their faces shining as they contemplate Jerusalem, at last within sight. We don't need to see a mock up. We can hear it in the orchestra and in the voices of the singers, and see it in their shining faces. Jerusalem isn't a physical place but a state of mind.
UC Opera is part professional, part amateur so the performances were good enough. Charles Peebles conducted. Katharina Blumenthal sang Griselda with firm assurance. John Mackenzie sang Pagano/the Hermit, pushing a supermarket trolley with neon cross. This was wittier than you'd expect. Pagano means "pagan", and the Hermit is an outsider, who has taken a vow of poverty. In these drab surroundings, the jewel colours of the cross shone even more brightly. Jeff Stuart sang Arvino and Adam Smith was a heroic Oronte. Sally Harrison sang Viclinda and Carola Darwin sang Sophia. Andrew Doll sang the Prior. Edward Cottell sang Pirro and Joseph Dodd was a distinctive Acciano.