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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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
10 Aug 2014
Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Petrenko did a reasonable job in Berio; however, I could not help but wonder how often he had conducted the work before. It was certainly a swift, driven reading, but that seemed to reflect a head more than usually stuck in the score (understandable, given the circumstances).The opening of the first movement was promising indeed: aethereal, its harmonies unmistakeably announcing an ‘Italian’ flavour - both Dallapiccola and Nono springing to mind - whatever the undoubted internationalism of Berio’s outlook. It is a great piece for the European Youth Orchestra, not only in terms of that ‘internationalism’ but also because, like Mahler (if only we could have had his music in the second half!) a large orchestra is employed, but sparingly, smaller ensembles drawn therefrom to wonderful, magical effect. It was a pity Petrenko drove so hard, but the movement recognisably remained itself.
The second movement came across almost as a ‘traditional’ slow movement, albeit again with sparing, almost soloistic use of the orchestra. An appropriately geological and river-like sense characterised the third movement. Mahler’s Second Symphony was the bedrock, of course, but I was also fascinated by the thoughts of memory and its tricks that the Rosenkavalier references provoked. If anything, Strauss and Hofmannsthal proved the more resonant on this occasion, though whether that was simply a matter of my frame of mind, or was in some sense owed to the performance, I am not sure. At any rate, the combination - and conflict - between the EUYO and London Voices made it seem, especially in the context of Petrenko’s once-again driven tempo, almost as though one were trapped within a human mind, and a witty one at that. Mathieu van Bellen offered an excellent violin solo. The typically varied vocal references included one to ‘Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony’, concluding with a ‘Thank you, Mr Petrenko’. Amplification perhaps seemed a bit heavy in the fourth movement, though perhaps it was more a matter of the acoustic; nevertheless Berio’s imagination continued to shine through. I wondered whether the final movement might have smiled a little more - no such problem with the voices - but all was present and correct, and often rather more than that.
As for Shostakovich: well, his apologists hail this symphony as a masterpiece, but an opportunity to hear it had the rest of us wish it had remain ‘withdrawn’, not on account of any dangerous ‘modernism’ - Stalinist ‘socialist realism’ truly was insane! - but because it is such a dull, frankly un-symphonic work. For the most part, Petrenko and the EUYO did all they did to convince, although string playing sometimes went awry. The first movement opened with Lady Macbeth-style Grand Guignol, perhaps more interesting than anything that followed. Precision and attack were impressive: there was a chilling mechanistic quality to the performance, but alas, the work ensured that returns diminished, Shostakovich’s threadbare invention rendered all too apparent after a while. The second movement is at least shorter, but from the outset, one felt, as so often with this composer, that one had heard it all before, and it still seemed too long.
Oft-drawn comparisons with Mahler seemed as incomprehensible as ever. They made a little more sense in the final movement - so long as one bore in mind Boulez’s observation that Shostakovich offers at best a ‘second pressing’ in olive oil terms - but surely nothing justified the lack of variegation and indeed the sheer tedium of this piece. Petrenko and the orchestra rendered the movement’s Largo opening nicely creepy. Various woodwind took the opportunity to shine within the confines of generally unrelieved lugubriousness. There could, however, be no papering over the formal cracks. How I longed for a little invention: Haydn, Webern, Mahler, Berio, just about anyone! Is it not about time that we abandoned puerile Cold War attitudes and considered whether this music is actually any good, rather than merely sympathising with the autobiography of an alleged ‘dissident’?