Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.

Sibelius Kullervo, BBC Proms, London

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn't allow it to be heard after its initial performance, though he referred to it fondly in private.

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.



11 Dec 2013

War Requiem, Chicago Symphony

As part of this year’s tribute to Benjamin Britten the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and soloists recently gave several performances of the composer’s War Requiem.

War Requiem, Chicago Symphony

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: "Two bewildered old ladies stand amid the leveled ruins of the almshouse which was Home; until Jerry dropped his bombs. Total war knows no bounds. Almshouse bombed Feb. 10, Newbury, Berks., England." February 11, 1943 [Source: U.S. National Archives]


The featured singers were soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya, tenor John Mark Ainsley, and baritone Matthias Goerne. In addition to the Chicago Symphony Chorus expertly prepared by Duain Wolff, the Chicago Children’s Chorus showed the careful supervision of its Artistic Director Josephine Lee. The Orchestra, soloists, and choruses were brought together under the direction of conductor Charles Dutoit.

Britten’s large-scale work was performed with deep respect yet also with the vitality that is needed to render a fresh impression of its predominantly pacifist sentiment. The soft choral repetitions on “Requiem aeternam dona eis” [“Eternal rest grant to them”] at both the beginning and end of the piece established such a requisite tone and allowed for variations by soloists, orchestra, and the choruses within these parameters. In the first solo piece, “What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?,” Mr. Ainsley made an energetic leap into the poetic text by Wilfred Owen. His clear and idiomatic pronunciation underscored the ironic use of words from the realm of prayer and church-services used here to describe gun-and shellfire. Ainsley’s skilled sense of vocal decoration showed in his melismas on the words “prayers” and “rapid” to eluciate the violent sounds of war, just as “wailing” was similarly emphasized as both the sound of a rushing shell and the emotions elicited by its destructive force. High pitches on “held” and “speed” in the third stanza led into a gradual deceleration as Ainsley sang the concluding line, “and each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds,” with a tempo matching the import of the text.

The intervening orchestral and choral passages devoted to the “Kyrie” and the “Dies irae” were played with stately emphasis and with careful attention focused on exposed writing for the brass. The second poem of Owen following immediately features the baritone as solo performer. In “Bugles sang” Mr. Goerne showed sensitivity to modulating his voice in the higher reaches at the start of the poem in Brittten’s scoring, while he ended the piece with an impressive, nearly bass emphasis in “Bowed by the shadow of the morrow, slept.” Between those parts Goerne’s projection on sustained pitches showed an unpleasant waver which tended to diminish his dramatic effect. At the entrance of the soprano and the return to Latin text, the “Liber scriptus” was declaimed with authority and a secure sense of pitch. Ms. Pavlovskaya gave an impressive performance with high notes sung forte on the first and third syllables of each verse culminating in awe before the “Rex tremendae majestatis” (“King of tremendous majesty”) of the final stanza. The concluding verse as an appeal for mercy was sung with an equally effective piano line.

In the first of several duets for tenor and baritone, “Out there we’ve walked quite friendly up to Death,” Ainsley and Goerne traced their vocal lines at times together, at times apart, as they portrayed two soldiers caught up in a combat platoon facing Death. In an emphatic reaction to this chilling prospect, both singers embellished their lines, “we laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.” Ainsley’s final recitation of “for Life, not men” with soft introspection led the pair back to the sober reckoning of war’s generic toll. Following the stately pronouncements of the choral “Recordare” Goerne invested Owen’s poem, “Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,” with sinister force. The metaphor of an arm for a “gun towering toward Heaven” was caught in the baritone’s chilling curse demanding that this limb be separated “from our soul.”

In each of the next few numbers for chorus and soloists bells sound at the conclusion as if in dignified recognition that individual participants of the conflict are commended to the earth. Ainsley’s elegy for a fallen soldier, “Move him into the sun,” was especially poignant for his emphasis on the “fatuous” sunbeams which can no longer break this sleep. The next duet for baritone and tenor, introduced with distinctive performances by the CSO woodwinds, was held together expertly under Dutoit’s leadership. The narration by the soloists of the story of Abram and Isaac was punctuated by the children’s chorus singing the Latin “Offertory.” In this ironic statement on the Old Testament sacrifice being fulfilled through the horrors of war, the ensemble worked together as seamlessly as in the following “Sanctus.” Here Pavlovskaya performed with full chorus in her declaration to the deity. Embellishments taken on “sanctus” and “in nomine Domini” as well as a rising melisma on “in excelsis” (“in the highest”) were executed at full voice with the chorus providing an echoing background. In the final duet for baritone and tenor, “Let us sleep now,” an increasing complexity of melodic line was again supported by the choral forces in their growing appeal for peace. The final shudder of “Amen” united the ensemble in this epitaph for an end to conflicts.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):