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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Malin Christensson as Susanna and Edwin Crossley-Mercer as Figaro [Photo by Craig T. Mathew & Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging]
30 May 2013

“Marriage” at the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Take a pair of peripatetic, sharp witted, libidinous dramatists with deeply humanist hearts, add a brilliant, fun loving young composer, who believed in forgiveness, and you end up with The Marriage of Figaro, a comic, always relevant opera, which the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra presented in Disney Hall, as part of its Mozart/DaPonte series.

“Marriage” at the Los Angeles Philharmonic

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Malin Christensson as Susanna and Edwin Crossley-Mercer as Figaro

Photos by Craig T. Mathew & Greg Grudt/Mathew Imaging


It all began with an original French play, titled La Folle Journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (A  Crazy Day, or The Marriage of Figaro), written by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais in 1773. The work,which was not produced until 1778, had strong political and social overtones, which helped disseminate the concepts of equality and individual rights, that led to the French revolution. Note, however, that at during the period that Beaumarchais was writing his plays, he was also employed by both Louis XV and XVI for secret missions in London.  There are numerous sources for information about Beaumarchais' amorous adventures.  For his life as a secret agent, see the CIA's (unclassified) web page titled “Beaumarchais and the American Revolution.” 

Lorenzo Da Ponte, the poet, who wrote the Italian libretto, was also a man given to wanderings and strange connections.  An ex-Jew, and ex-priest, who had been banished from Venice for licentious behavior, not only did he know Mozart, Casanova and Clement C, Moore (of The Night Before Christmas fame), but Samuel F. B Morse, inventor of the telegraph painted the poet's portrait, which once hung in Columbia University.  Da Ponte's autobiography which describes some of his lurid adventures, is not completely to be trusted.

CTM-8844.gifRachel Frenkel as Cherubino and Malin Christensson as Susanna

It was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who proposed using the Beaumarchais play as an opera libretto to Da Ponte, with the stipulation that the harsh political overtones be removed.  Professor Robert Greenberg considers The Marriage of Figaro, which is Mozart's most popular opera, “among the greatest achievements of artistic striving.” Following their collaboration for The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart and Da Ponte produced two more works, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

While it is not unusual for an opera company to plan Mozart/Da Ponte festivals, it is  extraordinary for an orchestra housed in a concert hall to undertake the task.  Even more extraordinary are the lengths and expense to which the Los Angeles Orchestra has gone to produce these performances.  The installation and sets for Don Giovanni, which they offered last year, were created by architect Frank Gehry, who had designed the Disney Concert Hall.  Fashion designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, created the costumes.  This year, presumably in honor of  Beaumarchais and the opera's Gallic origins, Jean Nouvel, a French architect created the performance area and Parisian based designer Azzedine Alaïa designed the costumes.  Both operas were directed by Christopher Alden. 

Don Giovanni was set on a narrow strip of stage in an all white, galactic looking universe. The  orchestra was behind the stage, so that singers had to follow the conductors beat on monitors.  Nouvel created a deeper stage in a rich maroon color  At the rear, a staircase rose toward the organ.  The stage surface wound around a newly created orchestra  pit to form an apron that allowed for interaction between performers and instrumentalists - and even with the conductor.   This, in fact, provided some moments of fun, which sadly, was often lacking on stage. 

This was a musically superb Marriage of Figaro.  In direct eye contact with the singers as well as the orchestra, Maestro Dudamel conducted a brilliant performance with the fluidity and precision that Mozart demands.  While he hadn't used a score for Don Giovanni, he did employ one for the Marriage of Figaro, at least for the performance I attended on May 19th.   The large, well chosen cast made for additional musical pleasure.  Baritone Edwin Crossley-Mercer was an unusually lustrous voiced, though angry Figaro.  Swedish soprano, Malin Christensson's shimmering Susanna was pert and charming.  As the Countess, soprano Dorothea Röschmann, known world-wide for the role, made her two great arias testaments to her character's deep sorrow.  Christopher Maltman was a suave, elegant, and seductive Count, and Rachel Frenkel offered a charmingly confused Cherubino.  John Del Carlo and Ann Murray, as Bartolo and Marcellina were luxury casting as a pair of unsuccessful plotters, turned loving parents.  William Ferguson, who sang Basilio, and Simone Osborne, as Barbarina, as well as John Irvin and Brandon Cedel, were all excellent.  The Los Angeles Master Chorale was a pleasant but almost invisible presence curtained off high and far behind the stage.

CTM-8946.gifChristopher Maltman as the Count and Dorothea Röschmann as the Countess

While Mozart was well served by the orchestra and singers, our two witty, humanist librettists were not.  When, as the fizzy overture was still being played, the cast wandered onto the stage at a languid, funereal pace. I should have known that this was not to be an entertaining, much less funny theater piece.  The stage though large, was essentially an empty space with no exits or entrances, no place to hide.  Artfully arranged lighting created shaded places, generally on the floor, to which singers retreated in various positions until called upon to sing once again.  In the last act, there were three such bodies on the floor, making the scene appear more like the end of Shakespearean tragedy than an  operatic farce.  One could read titles, and hear voices, but often could not locate the singers.  Figaro sang his teasing, “non piu andrai” to the audience, standing on the apron to left of the conductor.  Meanwhile, Cherubino to whom the words are addressed stood at rigid attention far behind him and the orchestra.  The famous comedic chair scene was performed without a chair or comedy.  I have no idea what the costumer had in mind.  At one point Susanna in a short skirt with cascading blond hair, looked like Alice straight out of Wonderland.  And when she wore her elegant white wedding dress, Figaro, beside her, wore a tight fitting zipped to the neck sweater, looking for all the world like a president about to deliver a fire side chat.  As in last year'sDon Giovanni, the English titles told the audience   things they didn't see.  It was impossible even for knowledgeable opera goers to follow the action, particularly in the garden scene. 

For all its visual failings, however, this staging of The Marriage of Figaro, was more successful than the Don Giovanni.  The use of the large stage improved sight lines.  Placing the orchestra in a pit allowed for freer music making.   Perhaps next year's Così fan tutte, will be ther lucky third that gets it all right.

Estelle Gilson

Production and cast information:

Figaro: Edwin Crossley-Mercer; Susanna: Malin Christensson; Bartolo: John Del Carlo; Marcellina: Ann Murray; Cherubino: Rachel Frenkel; Don Basilio: William Freguson; Count Almaviva: Christopher Maltman; Countess Almaviva: Dorothea Röschmann; Antonio: Brandon Cedel; Don Curzio: John Irvin; Barbarina: Simone Osborne. Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor. Christopher Alden, director. Jean Nouvel, installations. Azzedine Alaïa, costume design. Aaron Black, lighting design.

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