Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.



Gustav Mahler
19 Sep 2014

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Gustav Mahler


Unfair, because it would ignore the excellence of the playing and singing from the combined forces of Gerhild Romberger, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Children’s Choir, the ladies of both the Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir and the Leipzig Opera Chorus, and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; but not because it would seriously misrepresent my impressions of Alan Gilbert’s conducting, nor indeed of his remarks in a programme interview. Mahler withstands, indeed rejoices in, a good number of interpretative options, and one should always be one’s guard, lest one reject, Beckmesser-like, something new, simply because it is something new. However, that does not mean that anything goes. The Achilles heel of Gilbert’s performance throughout was his lack of structural understanding, or at least his inability to communicate such understanding in performance. He seemed, indeed, to have taken Bernstein at his word — as opposed to following Bernstein’s excellent practice as a conductor — in the claim cited in that interview: ‘I heard Leonard Bernstein … rehearsing it once and he said: “You know what? Finally, after all these years, I’ve found the answer to this piece. It’s like a nightmare of marches. You shouldn’t try to connect them but just live in the moment.’ Perhaps you can do that once you have internalised the piece sufficiently, but, lack of score notwithstanding, Gilbert’s understanding seemed only superficial. As for his bizarre claim in that interview that there was no Viennese tradition of performing Mahler prior to Bernstein…

The first movement, then, sounded rather like Gilbert heard Bernstein described it, save for the fact that it was not very nightmarish. The Gewandhaus Orchestra played with greatly impressive attack, but seemed encouraged to sound brasher than usual, almost as if it were being asked to ape Gilbert’s — or Bernstein’s — New York Philharmonic. What was entirely lacking here was the formal inevitability — form should be understood in dynamic, not static, terms — one hears or has heard from conductors as different asAbbado, Boulez, Haitink, Horenstein, or indeed Bernstein. (I could have done without the Big Bird-style conducting gestures too; at one stage, I thought Gilbert was about to launch into flight. O for the elegance, the economy of the first three named of alternative conductors!) At least there was, for much of the movement, a strong sense of rhythm, even if its connection with harmony appeared to elude the conductor. That dissipated, however, with some unconvincing rubato and tempo changes later on, signalling instability in very much the wrong sense. Doubtless this will all be lauded as ‘exciting’ in some quarters, but without structural command, the excellence of the orchestral playing could not make a symphony out of what sounded more akin to a very lengthy suite. The rush to the finish, however, well executed by the players, was straightforwardly vulgar — as opposed to harnessing apparent vulgarity to higher ends.

The second movement strayed closer still to Simon Rattle territory (or rather recent Rattle territory). Necessary lilt soon became unduly moulded, variations in tempo excessive. Some material was taken very fast indeed, to the extent that it sounded almost balletic. Mahler as Delibes? A point of view, I suppose, but that is the best that can be said. The third movement veered weirdly between such ‘balletic’ tendencies and imitation Bernstein ‘house of horrors’, which would have been better left for the Seventh Symphony. The problem, really, was that they arose from nowhere, and that the whole movement was more than a little rushed. At least the post-horn solos were played beautifully — as indeed was everything else.

Gerhild Romberger gave an excellent rendition of ‘O Mensch!’ though she sounded very much a mezzo rather than a contralto. Hers was nevertheless a performance of compelling honesty, in which words and music amounted to considerably more than the sum of their parts. Gilbert’s conception, though restrained, I think, in the light of the soloist’s presence, seemed unduly ‘operatic’, missing the essential simplicity, however artful in reality, of this song. The fifth movement opened with as much coughing and shuffling as singing but, once that audience contribution was out of the way, the excellence of singing and playing alike could register. (That said, Romberger’s diction was noticeably less good here.) It was taken quickly, but at least it was not unduly pulled around.

Finally, the great Adagio — well, strictly speaking, Langsam — which came off surprisingly well. At least some of the time, it appeared to speak ‘for itself’. The Leipzig strings were wonderfully warm in tone, with the necessary depth to let Mahler’s harmony tell. Although it was not always as rhythmically solid as it might have been, the performance was a definite improvement upon most of what had gone before. And the sound of this great orchestra remained a wonder in itself.

Mark Berry

Gerhild Romberger (mezzo-soprano); Leipzig Gewandhaus Children’s Choir (chorus master: Frank-Steffen Elster); Ladies of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Choir (chorus master: Gregor Meyer); Ladies of the Leipzig Opera Chorus (chorus master: Alessandro Zuppardo); Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Alan Gilbert (conductor). Royal Albert Hall, London, Thursday 11 September 2014.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):