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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
25 May 2013
Baltimore Premieres Camelot Requiem
In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination.
Grief is the word that came to mind during the world premiere of composer Joshua Bornfield and librettist Caitlin Vincent’s original opera, Camelot Requiem. In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination. The librettist is the Artistic Director of The Figaro Project, a group formed to promote local artists and affordable opera. The two-act work, which incorporates a Requiem Mass, was performed with a six-piece orchestra from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University School of Music was conducted by Blair Skinner. The cast, also from Peabody, included: Caitlin Vincent as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nathan Wyatt as Robert Kennedy, Alex Rosen as Lyndon Johnson, Lisa Perry as Lady Bird Johnson, Jeremy Hirsch as Dr. Burkley, Kate Jackman as Nurse Hutton, and Stephen Campbell as the Reverend Oscar L. Huber.
The opera depicted the horror of the time with a powerful musical performance punctuated with dissonance and silence. Taylor Boykins, a first year Peabody student who was at the performance, said, “The text is raw - kind of graphic.” The opening chords sent shivers down my spine when they combined with the ringing of bells and chanting. As Jacqueline Kennedy, Vincent was costumed in a bright pink suit, matching pillbox hat and bloodstained white gloves. With her dark hair and attractive demeanor, she resembled the first lady as her lush sound soared above the musical depiction of the events that took place at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas and the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Bornfield had unleashed his composition on a potent libretto.
Through the thunderous performances of Wyatt as Robert F. Kennedy and Rosen as L. B. J., the audience got a glimpse of the transfer of presidential power in the midst of the nation’s emotional shock following the assassination. Andrew Posner, 20, an undergraduate composition student of at Peabody said that Bornfield’s style was unique and his orchestration fantastic. Vincent drafted the libretto in October 2011 from three poems she had written from Mrs. Kennedy’s perspective on the day of her husband’s death. She developed one of them, entitled Rose, into a melancholy aria. To obtain her material, she researched oral interviews, Lady Bird’s personal diary and condolence letters sent to Mrs. Kennedy. When operagoers arrived at the church and they were handed programs and reproductions of sympathy notes sent to Mrs. Kennedy from around the world.
While the action moved on and off the church altar, the deliberate cacophony, bursting harmonies, and the magnificent baritone voice of Wyatt as RFK convinced the audience that a “New Frontier” was imminent. Perry as Lady Bird offered relief from the tension by infusing the opera with a warm and casual 1970’s song. Conductor Skinner, a DMA candidate at the Peabody, said that when you have a piece of music that no one has heard before and ten individual voices, each of which does something individualistic, the process is grueling but the hard work makes the effort extremely rewarding. Jackman as Nurse Patricia Hutton expressed emotional intensity with the weight of her soothing mezzo-soprano voice. As Mrs. Kennedy, Vincent sang that she would like to wake up from this nightmare. Her sorrow came across to the audience when she sang that she would rather die with her Jack than live without him. The final Lux Aeterna, sung by the cast from the balcony to Mrs. Kennedy who was standing below, left audience feeling comforted by angels.
Maureen L. Mitchell