Recently in Performances
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
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.
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.
03 Mar 2014
Torn Between Rival Loyalties
Handel’s great opus, Rodelinda, at English National Opera on
Friday night was the latest in the Coliseum’s recent run of new and
co-produced productions, and also renowned director Peter Jones’ latest foray
into the world of opera.
A full-ish house for the first night seemed from the
start inclined to be indulgent and supportive (does a Friday night after a long
week in the office in London help a new production? Discuss......) and was
helped along by what sounded suspiciously like a small claque cheering
from the very first da capo aria (“let’s get this lot going chaps”?)
without, it has to be said, that much cause at that particular moment.
John Mark Ainsley as Grimoaldo
Never mind, the audience did not need much further encouragement to applaud
as we were that night treated to one of the finest expositions of handelian
singing across the vocal spectrum that we’ve heard for quite a while. A
superb collection of the best British singing talent gathered under one roof to
show the world how Handel should — ought — to be sung. John Mark Ainsley,
(Grimoaldo), Susan Bickley (Eduige), Iestyn Davies (Bertarido), and Rebecca
Evans (Rodelinda) took on the leading roles in this tale of loyalty, power,
love and lust and gave full measure at every turn. They were supported no less
ably by Richard Burkhard (Garibaldo), Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Matt
Casio (a non singing, but certainly acting Flavio). One could spend paragraphs
praising each performer’s intelligent and musical interpretations, but
suffice to say that there was not one weak link in this chain of excellence
although inevitably both Evans and Davies, as chief protagonists and with the
most sublime and ferocious arias to their credit, did receive the loudest and
longest ovations come the end of three plus hours of Mr Handel at his best. And
each singer of course supported by the dash, drive and commitment to baroque
style that Christian Curnyn supplied from the pit.
I mentioned loyalty as a major driver in the plot: it came through again and
again both within the personal relationships of the characters and in their
wider political and philosophical concerns but it was loyalty much closer to
home which worried this writer most. One wishes only success and financial
security for English National Opera as it goes forward from some pretty torrid
times; one wishes that Handel’s greatest works should become loved by ever
larger audiences in ever more numerous productions; one wishes that more opera
house orchestras could adapt as stylishly to baroque details as does ENO’s;
and one wishes our British theatrical production talents ever more plaudits
both here and overseas as they bring new ideas and angles to old favourites.
However, the elephant in the room on Friday night, it must be said, was this
very thing. Peter Jones has already garnered many plaudits for his theatrical
insight and challenging productions around the world, but on leaving the
theatre on Friday night it became clear that this production was splitting
people down the middle.
A scene from Rodelinda
A straw poll aftewards produced extremes of reaction:
“marvellous, clever, thought-provoking” at one end and “poor singers, how
did they produce such excellence within such dire, distracting drivel?” at
the other. To be fair, he and his team did (mostly) give the singers both space
and focus on the stage for their big numbers; it was all the stuff in between
that in this writer’s opinion was either indulgent, patronising or plain
wrong. Once again, poor Mr Handel has suffered from a director’s inability to
trust the music, an inability to understand that emotion, conflict and
psychological evolution is already there — on the score, within the bars and
notes, riding on the swell and trough of fine singing. Others will disagree, no
doubt; some will say it’s a modern masterpiece; only the audiences of the
future will decide and let’s hope they do in droves. What is without doubt is
that Rodelinda will survive it all and with singers as good as we
heard in the Coliseum we can rest assured that Mr Handel will always have the
Until 15 March. Tickets: 020 7845 9300; www.eno.org