Recently in Performances
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. Holten connects Der fliegende Holländer to Der Meistersinger von Nürnberg and even to Parsifal by bringing out sub-texts on artistic creativity and metaphysics. And what amazing theatre this is, too, and very sensitive to the abstract cues in the music. .
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’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
30 Sep 2013
Peter Grimes, Vladimir Jurowski
Vladimir Jurowski conducted a fascinating Peter Grimes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Fascinating, because Jurowski finds things in Britten other conductors don't get in the first place. Jurowski approaches Britten as a composer, without the usual baggage of Britishness and Brittenish.
Jurowski makes us hear Britten as a composer who knew the music of his era and had much to say about the times he lived in. Britten was not provincial though he chose to live in Aldeburgh. Peter Grimes is by no means a "heritage museum" in music even if its inspiration was an 18th century text.
Jurowski's Passacaglia and Sea Interludes reveal Britten as a composer in the wider European context: grand, majestic gestures, as Romantic in the best sense of the word, but emotionally intense with a very modern edge. Peter Grimes was Britten's first mature opera and arguably the first real British opera, so it's important to hear it in this context. Britten knew the music of his time. The orchestration is huge in comparison to Britten's later works. There are even references to American popular music, such as in the Act Three scene in the pub. Britten, who knew more about America than most Suffolk fisherfolk, was obliquely commenting on social change. For change is at the heart of Peter Grimes.
Grimes is persecuted by pious hypocrites, determined to condemn him on principle. All around Aldeburgh, there are ruined churches, destroyed by fanatics in the Reformation. Witch hunts weren't so far in the past. Whatever Grimes may or may not have done, there are those in the Borough who need an outlet for the poison in their own souls. Perhaps there are subtexts in this opera linked to Britten's sexuality, or to his relationship with the conservative music establishment (qv Gloriana) but Peter Grimes is an opera which protests blind obedience to conformity. Anniversary years like this smother genuine knowledge under a fire blanket of banal cliché. All the more reason to respect Jurowski, even though the concert was part of the South Bank's anodyne The Rest Is Noise marketing.
Stuart Skelton's Peter Grimes is a breath of fresh air. Because Grimes is inarticulate, it doesn't mean that the role should be sung with neutral colour. The clarity of Skelton's timbre suggests Grimes's intelligence. Like his apprentices, he might have been forced into his line of work without choice. Skelton sang "Now the Great Bear and Pleaides" with such elegant purity that I thought of Captain Vere, the real hero of Billy Budd. Strength, for Britten, isn't physical prowess so much as emotional integrity. Audiences might like their Britten characters safer and more comfortable, but Skelton shows where the real potential in the role might lie.
Some excellent support from Brindley Sherratt (Swallow), whose shimmy with the Nieces ((Malin Christensson and Elizabeth Cragg) was low down and dirty yet hilarious at the same time. Nice to hear levity in a bass. Alan Opie was a good Balstrode and Mark Stone a very convincing Ned Keene. If that leather jacket cost thousands, it gave him an authentic swagger. The main female roles, Ellen Orford (Pamela Armstong), Auntie (Pamela Helen Stephen), and Mrs Sedley (Jean Rigby) could have been done with more bite, but to some extent, Britten wasn't at his best creating women. Mrs Sedley, though, can benefit from being done malevolently. There's vicious camp humour in "Murder most horrid", where trombones slither like snakes. If nothing else in this anniversary year, we should learn to recognize Britten's incisive sense of humour.
Singers have to show character and interact even in semi-stagings and concert performances. If anything, good Personenregie is even more important in semi-stagings and concert performances. One of the reasons I like minimal productions is that they focus attention on the performers themselves, not on the decor. The director was Daniel Salter who directed an excellent Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley..Alex Doidge-Green's designs were excellent. The LPO were roped in, partly to shield them from the movement of the singers on a cramped stage, but also symbolically. When Skelton rolled up the rope, he released the Peter Grimes, heading towards fate.
Cast and production information:
Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton, Ellen Orford: Pamela Armstrong, Captain Balstrode: Alan Opie, Auntie: Pamela Helen Stephen, Nieces: Malin Christensson, Elizabeth Cragg, Bob Boles: Michael Colvin, Swallow: Brindley Sherratt, Mrs Sedley: Jean Rigby,Ned Ke3ene: Mark Stone, Rev. Adams: Brian Galliford, Hobson: Joanathan Veira, London Voiuces, London Philharmomnic Orchestra, Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski, Director: Daniel Slater, Designer: Alex Doidge-Green, Lighting: Tim Mascall. Royal Festival Hall, London 28th September 2013.