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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Connell was South African born, based on London for much of her career and with strong ties to Australia, so that the friends and pupils who came together at St John’s Smith Square on 27 April 2013 to celebrate her memory were many and varied.
Proceedings opened with Aivale Cole, one of Connell’s pupils, singing an unaccompanied traditional Samoan piece Lota Nu’a, a powerful and affecting way to open.
Kathryn Harries was the master of ceremonies, introducing items, reading extracts from Connell’s obituary and providing other memories as well as contributing her own solo. The first half of the concert consisted of extracts from operas which were associated with Connell. Sylvie Valayre opened things with "La luce langue" from Verdi’s Macbeth accompanied by Phillip Thomas. A highly dramatic and vivid performance, displaying Valayre’s strong, dark toned voice. The result was sometimes rather stormy and lacked the superb sense of line that I remember from Connell’s own performance of the role.
Veteran tenor Thomas Moser sang "Mein lieber Schwann" from Wagner’s Lohengrin. A very heroic yet beautiful performance, Moser singing with a fine sense of line, burnished tone and ringing top. Baritone David Wakeham contributed Nabucco’s "Dio di Giuda" from Verdi’s opera, singing with a lovely line combined with a vibrant voice and expressive phrasing. He was accompanied by Mark Packwood. Kathryn Harries sang the Kostelnicka’s "Co chvila" from Janacek’s Jenufa. The Kostelnicka was a role which Harries shared with Connell. Harries gave us an intense scena, dramatic and rather brilliant.
After readings for Connell’s obituary in the Guardian, Richard Wiegold sang King Mark’s "Wozu die Dienste ohne Zahl" from Tristan und Isolde accompanied by Stephen Rose. This was a very fine, complex and profoundly moving performance. Wiegold singing with a lovely dark, burnished voice. Tenor Stuart Skelton, with Phillip Thomas at the piano, performed Florestan’s "Gott, welch Dunkel hier" from Beethoven’s Fidelio. Skelton sang with lovely, bright ringing tones, combining power with intensity and subtlety.
The last item in the first half was a role which Connell had come to rather late, but which had become one of her core roles, Turandot. Her pupil, Elisabeth Meister, sang Turandot’s "In questa reggia". Though I never heard Connell as Turandot, Meister’s gleaming tone and superb sense of line recalled what I remember of the virtues of Connell’s singing. It was a vibrant performance, implacable yet not strident, with impressive evenness of control.
For the second half, the concert tried to encompass other aspects of Connell’s character and art, starting with her sense of humour. We opened with a remembrance of her from Peter Robinson, then Robinson and Linnhe Robinson (members of a dining club with Connell), playing the Faure / Messager Souvenirs de Bayreuth. A delightful way of including to a reference to the Ring cycle in the concert (Brunnhilde and Sieglinde being amongst Connell’s roles).
Further humour followed, with Yvonne Kenny giving a delightful performance of Gershwin’s By Strauss accompanied by Linnhe Robertson. A masterly performance with a lovely shaped line combined with a fine attention to the words.
Fiona James, who had sung Adalgisa to Connell’s Norma on tour in Australia, gave us some charming examples of Connell’s sense of humour. James went on to announce details of the Elizabeth Connell Prize. Under the terms of Elizabeth’s Connell’s will, this is to encourage and assist aspiring dramatic sopranos of the world. The final of the inaugural competition will take place in 2014 in Sydney when five singers will compete for a prize of 20,000 Au$. The Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Foundation will administer the prize, and in fact Richard Bonynge was present at the concert in St John’s Smith Square.
More humour followed, with David Wakeham returning, accompanied by Mark Packwood, to give masterly performances of Tom Lehrer’s She’s my girl and I take your hand in mine, with nicely pointed words combined with a lovely line and a wonderfully deadpan manner.
Connell’s work as a recitalist was honoured in the next segment of the programme. Christine Teare and Mark Packwood gave a big-hearted performance of Richard Strauss’s Allerseelen. Morgan Pearse, accompanied by Eugene Asti, displayed an amazingly dark and vibrant baritone voice in a moving performance of Finzi’s Fear no more the head of the sun.
Penelope Randall-Davis, accompanied by Stephen Rose, gave a vibrant account of Handel’s "Ma quando tornerai" from Alcina. Jeffrey Black and Eugene Asti gave a rather operatic performance of Schubert’s Standchen. Tessa Uys, a friend of Connell’s from South Africa, gave a poetic account of Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat, D 899.
Turkish soprano Tulay Uyar is another of Connell’s pupils. She has a lovely bright toned lyric voice and gave a vividly dramatic account of "Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen" from Mozart’s Zaide, accompanied by Richard Hetherington. Two Massenet songs came next. Tenor Julian Gavin and Linnhe Robertson in "Pensée d’automne" and Sally Silver and Eugene Asti in a lovely account of "Ivre d’amour".
Thomas Moser, accompanied by Phillip Thomas, sang "She walks in loveliness" by Ernest Charles. And the solo contributions concluded with Sally Silver accompanied by Tessa Uys singing a traditional South African lullaby "Thula Thula", a song associated with Connell’s youth.
Proceedings concluded with all the singers returning to sing the chorus "Va, pensiero" from Verdi’s Nabucco conducted by Peter Robinson with Stephen Rose at the piano. A fine conclusion to a memorable concert in memory of a fine artist.
Elizabeth Connell Memorial Concert
Samoan Traditional: Lota Nu’u
Verdi: La Luce langue (Macbeth)
Wagner: Mein liebe Schwan (Lohengrin)
Verdi: Dio di Giuda (Nabucco)
Janacek: Co Chvila (Jenufa)
Wagner: Wozu di Dienste ohne Zahl (Tristan und Isolde)
Beethoven: Gott, welch Dunke hier (Fidelio)
Puccini: In questa reggia (Turandot)
Faure/Messager: Souvenirs de Bayreuth
Gershwin: By Strauss
Tom Lehrer: She’s my girl
Tom Lehrer: I take your hand in mine
Richard Strauss: Allerseelen
Finzi: Fear no more the heat of the sun
Handel: Ma quando tornerai (Alcina)
Schubert: Impromtu in G flat, D 899
Mozart: Tiger! Wetze nur di Klauen (Zaide)
Massenet: Pensee d’automne
Massenet: Ivre d’amour
Ernest Charles: She walks in loveliness
Trad: Thula Thula
Verdi: Va, pensiero, (Nabucco)
Aivale Cole (soprano)
Sylvie Valayre (soprano)
Thomas Moser (tenor)
David Wakeham (baritone)
Kathyrn Harries (soprano)
Richard Wiegold (bass)
Stuart Skelton (tenor)
Elisabeth Meister (soprano)
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Christine Teare (soprano)
Morgan Pearse (baritone)
Penelope Randall-Davies (soprano)
Jeffrey Black (baritone)
Tulay Uyar (soprano)
Julian Gavin (tenor)
Sally Silver (soprano)
Peter Robinson (conductor/piano)
Phillip Thomas (piano)
Mark Packwood (piano)
David Gowland (piano)
Richard Hetherington (piano)
Stephen Rose (piano)
Linnhe Robertson (piano)
Eugene Asti (piano)
Tessa Uys (piano)
St. John’s Smith Square, London
27 April 2013