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.
25 Apr 2013
Aida with all the Trimmings, Even a Blue Silk Elephant!
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces. The Khedive’s theater opened with Verdi’s already well-known Rigoletto, and he still did not have a work that was written specifically for Egypt. French Egyptologist Auguste-Edouard Mariette presented the ruler with a scenario for an Egyptian opera that may well have actually been written by a seasoned librettist, and Verdi was contacted. This time not only did the Khedive offer an enormous amount of money, it was also noted that the offer would go to Charles Gounod if Verdi did not accept.
Verdi could not let that happen, so he then agreed to compose the opera for 150, 000 lire. Since Verdi’s choice of a librettist would only receive 20,000 lire, the high price paid the composer becomes obvious. Although the composer would not be required to go to Cairo, he was asked send a representative to oversee the rehearsals and performance. One of the reasons he did not go to Egypt for the premiere was that the entire audience was made up of dignitaries, politicians, and critics. Verdi wrote the title role of Aida for Teresa Stolz, but she did not go to Cairo either. For her and for Verdi, the real opening night was the premiere of Aida at La Scala in Milan on February 8, 1872. Needless to say, both openings were tremendously successful.
On April 23, 2013, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s Aida in a production originally staged by Jo Davies, but directed in this city by Andrew Sinclair. The colorful and imaginative scenic and costume design was by Zandra Rhodes and the striking wigs by Stephen Bryant. A good Aida production is a grand spectacle. This was no exception and it was truly spectacular right down to the Triumphal Scene’s blue silk elephant! This was one production in which the visual art on the stage was of the same caliber as the excellent singing of some of the world’s finest artists. The only question I had about the scenery had to do with the final scene in the dark tomb. I did not see any structure holding the couple prisoner.
Director Andrew Sinclair added some interesting bits of staging. There was a human sacrifice with some “blood” in the Temple of Vulcan, and Amonasro was stabbed before he could escape to Ethiopia. The Aida, Latonia Moore, had a large enveloping lyric voice with which she floated piannissimi seemingly at will. Her sound soared over entire ensembles and she dominated the stage with her presence. Not only is her singing a joy to hear, she can act as well and she made us feel for her plight as a prisoner of war.
As Radames, Walter Fraccaro was a strong military leader who sang with a substantial, if not really beautiful, sound. Like Moore, mezzo-soprano Jill Groves has a large voice with interesting colors and overtones. She was a haughty Amneris who completely lost her heart to Radames. She paced her singing well and her Judgment Scene was the culmination of a fine rendition of the role. Mark S. Doss is a good singer who can create a memorable character on the stage. His Amonasro was always surrounded by an aura of danger and he sang with a dark dramatic sound. Ramfis, the High Priest was a very powerful man and Reinhard Hagen commanded the stage with definitive bass notes and a strong presence.
Kenneth Heidecke’s choreography was appropriate to each of the scenes in which there was dancing. The chorus has a huge part to play in this opera and Chorus Master Charles Prestinari had several groups representing Egyptians and their Ethiopian prisoners singing Verdi’s glorious harmonies while their characters were at odds with each other. With this production, conductor Daniele Callegari made a most successful San Diego Opera debut. His tempi were brisk but never too fast. He gave the singers room to breathe and never covered their softer tones. As a result of all of these excellent artists working together, San Diego Opera patrons enjoyed a truly memorable performance of this spectacular work.
Click here for cast and production information.