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Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[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.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
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.
08 Aug 2014
Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
The main work in the programme was Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex, which took up the whole of the second half of the concert. The actor Rory Kinnear provided the narration, speaking Deryck Cooke's translation of Jean Cocteau's original. Kinnear was amplified, so that his narration had a rather intimate, confiding quality. It worked very well, but I did wonder whether something more monumentally declamatory might have been more in keeping with Stravinsky's vision.
The chorus plays an important role in the piece, and here the men of the BBC Singers were joined by the men of the BBC Symphony Chorus to provide a very strong choral contribution. Their opening chorus combined monumentality with some wonderfully incisive and crisply controlled rhythms. Oramo kept the fast passages quiet so that the chorus's contribution was intensified, at times almost whispering. Throughout the piece, the chorus commented on the action sometimes with crisp, chugging motifs and sometimes with stronger, darker feelings. When the Messenger (Duncan Rock) came to tell of Jocasta's death, it was the chorus which took over the major role in a bizarrely jolly chorus which the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus sang with terrifying relish and pinpoint rhythms. The final, powerful chorus was a complete tour de force.
Allan Clayton was a very strong Oedipus, displaying a combination of power, focus and control. The role requires a tenor who can sing with a reasonable amount of dramatic bite, but who can cope with Stravinsky's rather florid writing. Clayton was just about ideal, in the way his tenor rang out over the orchestra but you could hear every detail and appreciate the sense of line. He managed to combine the strongly dramatic moments with some lovely lyric ones, plus a good feel for the language; and his final, short speech was profoundly moving.
Jocasta is a relatively short role, but an important one and Hilary Summers sang her solo with a wonderful combination of directness and her familiar straight tones, but still managed to bring in a seductive element too. Her duet with Clayton's Oedipus was one of the high points of the drama, full of thrilling vocal moments and wonderful orchestral detail.
Brindley Sherratt was admirably firm and trenchant as Tiresias. Juha Uusitalo's Creon was vivid enough, but his tone was rather too blustery for my taste. Duncan Rock made a fine Messenger, with strong, dark tones and powerful delivery. He was joined by Samuel Boden's as a rather pressured Shepherd.
There were moments in the performance when the balance was not ideal, though I realise that this varies depending on where you sit in the auditorium (I was in seat H61, going through door J in the Stalls). Whilst Oramo kept the orchestra under fine control, there was a feeling that the soloists would have had a rather more favourable time if the orchestra had been in a pit, although there is no pit at the royal Albert Hall. .
The orchestra contributed some finely thrilling playing, wonderfully controlled and crisp but still powerful. This period of writing in Stravinsky's career requires performers to combine accuracy with thrilling power, the devil is always in the detail. Here all the details were present, with terrific rhythmic precision and control and some lovely solo details in the orchestra, and combining into an ideal whole.
The concert started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture the best known of the incidental music that he wrote in 1810 for Goethe's play Egmont. Throughout Oramo kept things on a tight rein, and you felt the tension, drama and shimmering excitement. I had a couple of worries, though. With the large body of strings, the balance with the woodwind did not seem ideal and in the louder tutti moments, the strings tended to obscure the wind. The ending, though controlled, seemed a little too buttoned up. I wanted the final bars to let go a bit more.
Also in the first half, Brett Dean's Electric Preludes which was written in 2011-2012 for his friend Richard Tognetti to perform on the electric violin. This is a new instrument, where the instrument functions very much like an electric guitar with the sound requiring amplification and providing scope for a wide range of electro-acoustic effects. The instrument was also equipped with extra strings, taking the sound into the cello territory. Dean has already written a concerto for the conventional violin and this new piece pits the Electric Violin against a string orchestra in six movements with evocative titles, Abandoned Playground, Topography - Papunya, Peripeteia, The Beyonds of Mirrors, Perpetuum Mobile and Berceuse.Dean's work explored the endless possibilities for variations of textures that his combination of solo electric violin and strings gave him. Each of the movements was very much a character piece, exploring a particular mood, and it was mood and texture which were important rather than specific melodic material. I have to confess that I am still not sure about the electric violin as a solo instrument, but Francesco D'Orazio was clearly a virtuoso and was finely supported by Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Beethoven: Egmont Overture; Brett Dean: Electric Preludes
Oedipus: Allan Clayton, Jocasta: Hilary Summers, Creon: Juha Uusitalo, Tiresias: Brindley Sherratt, Messenger: Duncan Rock, Shepherd: Samuel Boden, Speaker: Rory Kinnear
Francesco D'Orazio: Electric violin
BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo: Conductor
BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Prom 28, 7 August 2014