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Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
19 Jun 2014
Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
When Antonio Pappano is fired with the passion he feels for this music, few other conductors even come close. He' was phenomenal. He took risks with depth and colour, which pay off magnificently. He wasn't afraid of the way the music at times veers towards extremes of vulgarity, expressing the greed and nastiness of nearly every character in the plot. In this score, there's no room for polite timidity. Themes of freedom occur throughout this opera, which Pappano delineates with great verve. Yet there's discipline in Pappano's conducting. His firm, unsentimental mastery keeps the orchestral playing tight. Manon may lose control of her life, but Pappano keeps firm a moral compass. In the Intermezzo, this tension between escape and entrapment was particularly vivid. No need for staging. Instead, Puccini's quotation from Prévost's text was projected, austerely, onto the curtain.
Kristine Opolais created a Manon that will define her career for years to come, and become a benchmark against which future Manon will be compared. Her voice has a lucid sweetness that expresses Manon's beauty, but her technique is so solid that she can also suggest the ruthlessness so fundamental to the role. The Act Two passages she sings cover a huge range of emotions, which Opolais defines with absolute clarity. In every nuance, Opolais makes us feel what Manon might feel, so intimately that one almost feels as if we were intruding on Manon's emotional privacy. It's not "easy listening" but exceptionally poignant.
In the final scene, Puccini specifies darkness and cold, undulating terrain and a bleak horizon. There are no deserts around New Orleans, which is on a delta. Opolais lies, literally "at the end of the road", suspended in mid-air devoid of every comfort. Then Opolais sings, transforming Manon from a dying wretch in a dirty dress through the sheer beauty and dignity of her singing. "Sei tu, sei tu che piangi?", she started, building up to the haunted "Sola, perduta, abbandonata, in landa desolata. Orror!"". The glory of Opolais's singing seemed to make Manon shine from within, as if she had at last found the true light of love. I was so moved I was shaking. Anyone who couldn't be touched by this scene and by Opolais must have concrete in their arteries, instead of blood.
Opolais and Jonas Kaufmann are so ideally cast. Their presence might push up the cost of tickets, but think in terms of investment. These performances will be talked about for decades to come. Kaufmann's deliciously dark-hued timbre makes him a perfect Italianate hero. On the first night, in the First Act, some minor tightness in his voice dulled his singing somewhat, but he's absolutely worth listening to even when he's not in top form. In the love duets, his interaction with Opolais was so good one could forgive him anything. By the crucially important last scene, his voice was ringing out true and clean again - a heroic act of artistry much appreciated by those who value singing. He'll get better as the run progresses.
Manon Lescaut is very much an ensemble piece although the two principals attract most attention. Christopher Maltman sang Lescaut, Manon's corrupt brother. Lescaut is low down and dirty, a calculating chancer with no scruples who'll gladly set upon his friends if it suits him. Maltman's gutsy energy infused his singing with earthy brio, completely in character. Maurizio Muraro sang an unusually well-defined Geronte, who exudes slime and malevolent power. How that voice spits menace!
The lesser parts were also extremely well delivered. The Sergeant is a more significant role than many assume it to be. Jihoon Kim sang it with more personality than it usually gets. he makes the role feel like a Geronte who hasn't made enough money to kick people around, but would if he could. Significantly Puccini places the part in context of the female prisoners who are Manon manquées.Benjamin Hulett sang Edmondo, Nigel Cliffe the Innkeeper, Nadezhda Karyazina the Musician, Robert Burt the Dance master, Luis Gomes the lamplighter and Jeremy White the Naval Captain. Good work all round. Although attention focuses on overall staging, the director's input in defining roles should never be underestimated. Jonathan Kent's Personenregie was exceptionally accurate.
This production attracted controversy even before the performances began. However, it is in fact remarkably close to Puccini's fundamental vision. Those who hate "modern" on principle often do so without context or understanding. So what if the coach at Amiens is a car? How else do rich people travel? So what if Manon wears pink? Puccini's Manon Lescaut hasn't been seen at the Royal Opera House for 30 years, but Massenet's Manon is regularly revived. So Londoners are more familiar with Manon than with Manon Lescaut. Yet the two operas are radically different. Mix them up and you've got problems. In Massenet, Manon and Des Grieux have a love nest in a garret. But Puccini goes straight past to Geronte's mansion and to the sordid business of sex and money.All the more respect to Puccini's prescience. Anyone who is shocked by the this production needs to go to the score and read it carefully.
Geronte thinks he's an artist. Because he thinks he owns Manon - so he uses her as a canvas to act out his fantasies. Jonathan Kent isn't making this up. Read the score. One minute Manon is in her boudoir, putting on makeup, talking to her brother. Next minute, musicians pour in and the have to be shooed out. Then, "Geronte fa cenno agli amici di tirarsi in disparte e di sedersi. Durante il ballo alcuni servi girano portando cioccolata e rinfresch"i. Geronte beckons to friends to stand on the sidelines and sit. During the dance some servos are bringing chocolate and refreshments). The guests know that Manon sleeps with Geronte. They have come in order to be titillated. It's not the dancing they've come to admire. They're pervs. Geronte is showing off, letting his pals know what a catch Manon is. Hence the dancing: a physical activity that predicates on the body and the poses a body can be forced into "Tutta la vostra personcina,or s'avanzi! Cosi!... lo vi scongiuro" sings the Dancing master. But he has no illusions. "...a tempo!", he sings, pointing out quite explicitly that her talents do not include dance. "Dancing is a serious matter!" he says, in exasperation. But the audience don't care about dancing. They've come to gape at Manon. There's nothing romantic in this. Geronte is a creep who exploits women. It's an 18th century live sex show. Geronte's parading his pet animal.
So Manon concurs? So many vulnerable women get caught up in the sick game, for whatever reason. The love scene that follows, between Opolais and Kaufmann, is all the morer magical because we've seen the brutality Manon endured to win her jewels. Perhaps we also feel (at least I did) some sympathy for Manon's materialistic little soul. She knows that money buys a kind of freedom.When news of Mark Anthony Turnage's commission for Anna Nicole first emerged, some were surprised. Others said "Manon Lescaut". The story, unfortunately, is universal..At first I couldn't understand what the film crew and lighting booms meant but I think they suggest the way every society exploits women and treats them as objects for gratification. Later, the lighting booms close down like prison bars. Some of the women being transported are hard cases but others are women who've fallen into bad situations, but are equally condemned. Far from being sexist, this production addresses something universal and very present about society. I'm still not sure about the giant billboard "Naiveté" but there is no law that says we have to get every detail at once. Perhaps Kent is connecting to advertising images and popular media, which is fair enough.
People wail about "trusting the composer". But it is they who don't trust the composer. Any decent opera can inspire so much in so many. No-one owns the copyright on interpretation. But the booing mob don't permit anyone else to have an opinion and insist on forcing their own on others who might be trying to engage more deeply. It's time, I think, to call the bluff on booers. They don't actually care about opera. Like Geronte, they're into control, not art..