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The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
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
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’.
30 May 2013
Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Trionfo dell’Onore
Just when you imagine you’ve got the operatic time-line fixed in your mind
in a clean sweep of what goes where and when and how, you hear another work
from another forgotten corner of the repertory that upends one’s conclusions.
Alessandro Scarlatti was a tremendously prolific composer of the Italian era
after Cavalli and before Vivaldi and Handel, famous throughout Italy, then soon
forgotten. In this period, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries
(it is convenient to recall that his son, Domenico, the keyboard virtuoso, was
born the same year as Handel and Bach in the generation of Vivaldi and
Telemann), Venice had half a dozen theaters playing opera several nights a week
(more during Carnival), and the demand for new work to fill them was
insatiable. The other major cities of the disunited peninsula had their own
theaters, their own traditions, their own composers—but Scarlatti moved about
in search of commissions and a regular income to support his large family. He
is remembered as a “Neapolitan” composer, perhaps because most of his
manuscripts turned up in the Naples Conservatory, but he was far more
international than that. Venice and Naples were capitals of very different
How large were these theaters? Not very. None of them belonged to the city;
private landowners, usually noblemen, built them and rented them out to
impresarios, who hired the musicians and produced the operas. You couldn’t
easily light a large theater (wax drips, you know) and the tiny orchestras
could not easily drown out audience chatter. In the great serious operas,
chatter would cease when a famous singer expressed a special emotion in melody,
but for nightly entertainment something lighter might be called for.
Comic stories were silly, romantic, predictable, the personalities taken
from commedia dell’arte more fallible, less high-minded than the
serious, heroic ones whom they often parodied, and the voices were expected to
be serviceable if not top-flight. Opera buffa was a step down, and major
singers did not take it. Did the lighter operas pay the composer as well as the
serious ones? That’s a question I cannot answer. Certainly Scarlatti eagerly
accepted both sorts of commission, and so did Pergolesi in Naples and Telemann
in Hamburg. (Cavalli, as you will recall, intermingled comic scenes with
serious ones in his narratives
but that style was out of fashion, though it
is more immediately interesting to us today.) Handel probably would have set
comic libretti, but he decamped to London—where comic foolery did not play in
foreign tongues. His mature operas with comic stories are therefore constructed
on a “serious” model: Serse, Partenope, Alessandro.
Agrippina, with its old-fashioned mix of serious and comic characters,
was composed during the sojourn in Venice when he met the Scarlattis.
Underworld Productions Opera has just given the New York premiere of
Scarlatti’s 1718 opera buffa, Il Trionfo dell’Onore, which may or
may not be typical of the comic output of the day. (Winton Dean says Scarlatti
was stylistically eccentric, which appeals more to us than it did to the
regular audience of his own time.) What stood out for me in this light piece
was the way conflicts developed by way of duets rather than the, occasionally
tedious serious manner of aria succeeding aria. This is a manner I had thought
the invention of Mozart, Paisiello and Rossini, but here were are, a century
before Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and two ladies display their
personality in a duet of apparent sympathy while confiding to us that they are
both in love with the same rogue and hate each other accordingly. We also have
love duets of many varieties, from gentlemanly seductions (the lady flirtatious
or sarcastic in response) to heartfelt recriminations.
In the cast at the Leonard Nimoy/Thalia, the men did not please as much as
the women did, though all of them proved adept at conveying the casual yet
emotional nature of romantic comedy. The two gentleman seducers who set the
plot rolling were written for those irresistible figures, women in drag (think:
Cherubino). In Venice, castrati were reserved for more upscale, heroic
opera, while in the Papal States they were expected to play all the women,
actual women being forbidden to set foot on the stage. (Lecherous old ladies
were often played by men in drag, in any key at all.) Modern opera companies
may do as they like in such matters, and what they tend to do is make use of
whatever talent is on hand. The show must go on.
Thus we had Eric S. Brenner, a thin-voiced countertenor, as Riccardo, the
scamp who neglects his fiancée Leonora to pursue her friend Doralice, ignoring
her betrothal to Leonora’s brother, Erminio. Erminio was sung by a
mezzo, Stephanie McGuire, so effectively ardent that I thought her, too, a
countertenor. Maria Todaro, who has a deep alto of impressive quality, sang the
heartbroken Leonora, and was quite humorous displaying her dark tones in
sarcastic asides with Elise Jablow’s naïve, sweetly sung Doralice. Catherine
Leech sang Rosina, a pert servant, with that combination of mischief and
sentiment that we associate with Mozart’s Susanna, as she resisted the
advances of both Riccardo’s lecherous uncle (dry-voiced Christopher Preston
Thompson) and Riccardo’s bombastic friend Rodimarte (a bumptious baritone,
Stephen Lavonier), and sighed to no avail for Ms. McGuire’s Erminio. Briana
Sakamoto completed the cast as the elderly innkeeper with designs on the uncle
who is after her servant. Somehow four happy couples evolved by the conclusion,
though one wouldn’t predict happy marriages for many of the eight.
Nor does one foresee major careers for most of these voices (I’d like to hear
Ms. Todaro again), but their zesty performances and lack of top-flight
pretension give us, perhaps, a more precise notion of the light musical theater
derived from antique commedia that got audiences joyously through an
evening out in 1718 when the regatta teams weren’t out playing water polo.
How very enjoyable to encounter such a thing in New York in 2013!
Production and cast information:
Riccardo: Eric S. Brenner; Bombarda: Stephen Lavonier; Leonora: Maria
Todaro; Cornelia: Briana Sakamoto; Rosina: Catherine Leech; Flaminio:
Christopher Preston Thompson; Doralice: Elise Jablow; Ermino: Stephanie
McGuire. Sinfonia New York under Dorian Komanoff Bandy. Underworld Productions.
At the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater. Performance of May 22.