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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.



Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, 1968, photographer Hans Wild
16 Jun 2014

Britten: Owen Wingrave, Aldeburgh Music Festival

An ideal choice for this year's Aldeburgh Music Festival, Britten's Owen Wingrave. From a very early age, Britten was incensed by bullying and repression.

Britten: Owen Wingrave, Aldeburgh Music Festival

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh, 1968 [Photo by Hans Wild]


Indeed, the protection of innocence and the condemnation of cruelty runs through nearly all Britten's work, powerfully informing his whole creative persona. Owen Wingrave is critical to any real appreciation of what Britten stood for.

The Aldeburgh Music Festival and the Britten-Pears Foundation are wise to stage Owen Wingrave again, in the same place where the composer conducted the first public performance back in 1970. In 1914, men marched to war because they were led to believe that they were fighting "the war to end all wars". One hundred years later, those who believe in military solutions seem to have learned nothing from a century of almost incessant warfare. More than ever, we need Owen Wingrave and Britten's passionate opposition to mindless conformity.

Owen Wingrave was commissioned for television. Nearly a quarter of a million people watched it when it was first broadcast by the BBC in 1972, reaching audiences far beyond any opera house. That in itself is a statement about its significance. Composers wrote for film almost as soon as technology added sound to movies. Britten enjoyed going to the cinema, and spent his war years working for the GPO Film Unit. In Owen Wingrave, music and an understanding of film technique go together. The abstraction of music can be expressed through devices like split frames and juxtaposed images. On the physical stage, such things aren't easy to carry off. At Aldeburgh, director Neil Bartlett has chosen a minimalist set, enhanced by dramatic light effects (Ian Scott). This reflects the austerity in the music, which in turn reflects the stark moral situation Owen is faced with. "Listen to the house!" the female singers repeat, their lines intertwining, as if a knot - or noose - were being drawn tight. For the house does speak - "creaks and rustles, groans and moans" .The oppressiveness is almost palpable. "The "boom of the cannonade", created by percussion and low brass is so sinister that we could be hearing a thousand years of ghosts marching relentlessly towards death. The spirit of Paramore looms so large in the music that we don't need to see the house to feel its malign presence. Better the dark shadows and spartan set, so our imaginations can conjure up unseen images of horror.

In the original film, portraits of Wingraves past line the walls, menacingly, and come alive, leaping at Owen, like the present members of his family scold him, singly and in unison. On film, that's plausible, on stage it would be contrived. Bartlett, and choreographer and movement director Struan Leslie, use a group of young soldiers as a silent chorus. They operate in tight formation, as befits soldiers, but their movements also reflect figures in the music: a very subtle effect, which justifies their value in the production. They're also useful for technical reasons - they move such furniture as there is on the bare stage, "building" the haunted room by reversing the panels that serve as walls. Most perceptive of all, the soldiers are young, inspiring more sympathy than if they mere replicas of wizened old Wingraves, ghosts perhaps of young men sent to early deaths. Victims and perpetrators, harnessed together in perpetuity, like the ghosts in the haunted room, like Owen and Paramore.

The stark staging has a further advantage in that it throws extra focus on the singers and on the Britten-Pears Orchestra, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, designated Music Director at the ENO when Edward Gardner moves on. Britten, Nagano and Richard Hickox hover over Wigglesworth, but he gives a good account of the music, stressing the clarity of the writing for solo instruments versus larger groups. Excellent experience for the young players in this orchestra, many of whom will go on to play in larger ensembles.

Ross Ramgobin sings Owen. Again, one retains memories of Gerald Finley and above all, Jacques Imbrailo, who created the part ten years ago when he was still a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists programme at the Royal Opera House. Imbrailo is perhaps the ideal Owen, since his voice shimmers with preternatural purity, but Ramgobin does well against such competition, which says a lot in his favour. Ramgobin's voice is agile and light, with a much more convincingly youthful timbre than Benjamin Luxon and Peter Coleman-Wright.

Susan Bullock sings Miss Jane Wingrave. The part contains sharp edges, to emphasize the character's sterile frustration. Bullock creates the effect of strangled tension without tightening throat or chest, but articulates her words with rapier-sharp diction. Catherine Backhouse sings a pert Kate, and Janis Kelly sings her mother Mrs Julian. Isaiah Bell sang Lechmere unusually well, his voice adding colours to the part, which could otherwise be interpreted as bland and callow. A singer to watch. Jonathan Summers sings Spencer Coyle and Samantha Crawford sings his wife, artfully suggesting the dynamic between the couple, where he controls and she is left to flutter prettily, but bleakly along. Richard Berkeley-Steele sang General Sir Philip Wingrave and James Way sang the Ballad singer, again with more personality (a good thing) than the part might otherwise attract.

Anne Ozorio

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