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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.
19 Aug 2013
Prom 47: Brahms — A German Requiem
In the first of her two visits to the Royal Albert Hall this summer, Marin Alsop led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and its associated Choir through three nineteenth-century works which are united by their romantic intensity and progression from darkness to light.
It was apparent from the first quiet, probing pulses of the basses,
accompanying the gentle rise and fall of cellos and violas, that the choice of
period-instruments for Brahms’ German Requiem — a work of
magnificent power and spiritual grandeur — was a wise one. Above this mild,
mellifluous platform every word of the Choir of Enlightment’s calm opening
pronouncement was crystalline. This is not a liturgical mass for the dead but
rather a personal testament designed to console the living — it was composed
after the death of the composer’s mother, and inspired also by memories of
his beloved friend, Richard Schumann — and Brahms’ ‘message’ was nobly
evident in the Choir’s opening words: ‘Selig sind, die da Leid tragen,/ den
sie sollen getröstet werden’ (Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be
comforted). Alsop consistently gave the text — garnered by the composer
himself from Luther’s German Bible and from the Apocrypha — room to speak
without undue force, and the result was a remarkably intense quietude matched
elsewhere by an equally dignified and moving radiance.
The second movement, ‘Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras’ (For all
flesh is as grass), began with fateful gravity, the timpani’s dark, funereal
pulses sensitively articulated by Adrian Bending. Legend has it that a
pre-premiere run-through of the first three movements of the Requiem
were somewhat sabotaged by the relentless fortissimo pounding of an
over-enthusiastic timpanist; here, and throughout the work, Bending offered a
master-class in percussion playing, achieving tense restraint, insistent power,
and building to perfectly judged, thrilling climaxes. The movement roved
through alternating passages of despair and resignation before the Choir’s
grandiloquent outburst, ‘Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Weigkeit’ (But the
Word of the Lord endureth for ever).
Baritone Henk Neven intoned the opening words of the third movement, 'Herr,
lehre doch mich,/ dass ein End emit mir haben muss’ (Lord, make me to know
mine end, and the measure of my days), with composure tinged with anxiety.
Deftly crafting the humbling exchanges between soloist and chorus, in which
Neven wonderfully conveyed both the fears and hopes which define human
mortality, Alsop effectively controlled the structure and accumulating tension,
before the latter was released by the timpani’s affirmative pedal Ds in the
vigorous, up-lifting — but never bombastic — fugal conclusion, ‘Der
Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand,/ und keine Qual rühret sie an’ (But
the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be torment
After the joyous simplicity of the subsequent assuring chorus, ‘Wie
lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth’ (How lovely is thy dwelling
place, O Lord of Hosts), the radiant purity of soprano Rachel Harnish’s
graceful, floating lines wonderfully expressed the restful comforts of the
text, a quiet confession of the composer’s faith. Neven’s interchanges with
the Choir in ‘Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt’ (‘Now we have no
dwelling place’) resumed the forward motion, the chorale-like rhythms and
blend of traditional and fresh harmonies driving the music purposefully towards
the fugal conclusion. In the final movement Alsop reasserted the solemn, but
sweet, nobility of the opening bars; the quiet benediction of the close,
‘Selig sind die Toten’ (Blessed are the dead) was deeply affecting.
This was a wonderful performance in which Alsop drew forth the underpinning
mood of the Lutheran chorales which are the foundation for so many of the
melodies, sustaining a consistent aura of lyrical splendour and combining the
movements, which can sometimes feel disparate and lacking a clear dramatic
progression, into a convincing whole.
The programme began with Brahms’ Tragic Overture. Alsop captured
the sombre mood but did not quite sustain the momentum, especially in the
slower developmental central section, and she struggled to gather the various,
sometimes extensive, episodes into a structurally coherent whole. Here the
choice of period instruments seemed less successful, not fully able to summon
the oppressive weight or dynamic contrasts of the composer’s orchestral
canvas. The textures were crisp, however, and there was some beautifully
relaxed piano playing from the horns and woodwind. The surge towards
the terse conclusion was fittingly stormy.
Schumann’s Fourth Symphony completed the programme, in which
Alsop’s tempi were brisker and this helped to define the thematic links
between the movements and create a strong sense of a unified whole. Those who
disparage the composer’s overly dense instrumentation were here refuted by
the lightness and clarity of the OAE’s orchestral conversations and the even
balance of timbres. The dark brooding of the double basses (all eight of them)
was neatly countered by the sheer sonorities of the upper strings and woodwind
solos. An enchanting oboe solo from Michael Niesemann introduced the second
movement, a graceful Romance in which the violins found a translucent
elegance, inspired by some wonderful playing by leader Kati Debretzeni. A
spirited Scherzo gave way to more temperate Trios, before an upwelling into the
robust, exuberant Finale, in which Alsop — who conducted from memory
throughout the concert — demonstrated an energetic enthusiasm which bodes
well for September 7th, when she will become the first woman to
conduct the Last Night of the Proms.
There was much fine playing from the OAE. But, it was the precision and
thoughtful poise of the Choir of Enlightenment which lifted this performance
from ‘good’ to something special.
Cast and production information:
Brahms: Tragic Overture; Schumann: Symphony No. 4 in D
Minor; Brahms: A German Requiem; Rachel Harnisch, soprano; He nk Neven, baritone; Marin Alsop, conductor; Orchestra of the
Age of Enlightenment; Choir of the Enlightenment. Royal Albert Hall, London,
Saturday, 17th August 2013.