Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Unsuk Chin
09 Mar 2015

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican Hall London, 8th March 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Unsuk Chin

 

Unsuk Chin’s take on Carroll, with David Henry Hwang’s libretto, emphasizes the madcap mania of the original, where nothing is what it seems and Reason is Irrelevant. This Alice in Wonderland is anything but prim. It’s zany, anarchic and subversive, and also hilariously funny.

With her music, Unsuk Chin builds ambitious architecture, vast grand edifices that stun by their sheer scale. This new version, with Netia Jones’s semi-staging and Lloyd Moore’s re-orchestration, reveals the strong, basic structure, releasing its manic, kinetic energy. Jones’s direction and designs buzz with wit and colour. Video (Lightmap and Netia Jones) is good at depicting impossibilities, like the vanishing Cheshire cat and his enduring grin. The interplay between video and reality is so good that it’s quite unsettling, which amplifies meaning. The illustrations are by Ralph Steadman: no trace of twee. When the Mouse (Christopher Lemmings) is condemned, the crowd shout “Disneyfy him!” A fate worse than death.

Kent Nagano conducted Unsuk Chin’s original score in Munich eight years ago, but not all houses have such resources. Thus the Los Angeles Philharmomic commissioned a version that’s easier to carry off and tour. Lloyd Moore is sensitive to the spirit of Chin’s original. By reducing the number of players, especially in the strings, the inherent liveliness in the music is liberated. The choruses (BBC Singers, Tiffin Boys Choir) are still big, though not quite the 40-60 singers specified in the original The emphasis is thus on the quality of Chin’s instrumentation rather than sheer volume. Chin has a passion for imaginative use of unusual instruments. The score employs “kitchenalia” which means just that — alarm clocks, wind chimes, tweet and crackles and pops. Vivid combinations, such as when the violins are plucked, extending the sound of the mandolin. In Scene Two, ‘The Pool of Tears’, the image of water is created by celli and basses, bowed with maximum depth, creating a drone that’s both mournful and mysterious. The Caterpillar sings, wordlessly. He, whose very existence depends on changing shape and form, is represented by a single instrument, the bass clarinet, which, oddly enough, looks like a metal caterpillar. Baldur Brönnimann conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He’s a new music specialist, alive to the quirky possibilities this music offers.

Unsuk Chin’s vocal lines are counter-intuitive to syntax, often also running counter to the orchestra. Text turns to tongue twister. Yet again, that’s part of the concept of shape-changing instability. It’s not easy to carry off well, though. Rachele Gilmour sang Alice in Los Angeles, which is perhaps why she was cast again in London. Andrew Watts sang the White Rabbit, Badger and March Hare in Munich and in LA, and is perhaps the most important countertenor in his field, and the most experienced. He was divine, capturing the jagged edges of his parts with demented aplomb, not only with his unique voice but also with his body language. His White Rabbit camps along, prissily wiggling his large rabbit behind: totally in character. A tour de force.

Marie Arnet’s Cheshire Cat was sung with spirit and spice. Perhaps the cat knows that the way to survive in this crazy world is to grin, even when all else fades. Jane Henschel was in superb form. Her Queen of Spades was gleefully wicked, laced with shrill but well controlled vitriol, and she made it sound like fun. Dietrich Henschel sang the Mad Hatter, using the metallic tension in his voice to good effect. Impressive Christopher Lemmings Mouse, Dormouse and Invisible Man. Stephen Richardson, a British stalwart, sang the King of Hearts, while the other smaller parts were taken by American singers, from the LA production: Andrew Craig Brown, Rafael Moras, Nicholas Brownlee. Kihun Yoon and Lacey Jo Benter.

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Live in Concert on Saturday 11th July at 7.30 pm and available for 30 days after broadcast on the BBC Radio 3 website and BBC I Player Radio

Anne Ozorio

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):