Recently in Performances
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.
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.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
28 Aug 2015
La Púrpura de la Rosa
Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World,
La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima
(Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the
For those versed in Golden Age Spanish literature the name
Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681) will of course be familiar, but
Calderón lovers and even connoisseurs are likely to raise an eyebrow at seeing
the man who penned La Vida es Sueño (“Life is a Dream”), a
philosophical tragicomedy solidly established in the canon of Western drama,
become an opera librettist (English readers are invited to imagine Shakespeare
or a quasi-Shakespeare writing an opera libretto to experience an analogous
sense of puzzlement at the sight of the program). The conundrum, as Louise K.
Stein explains in her excellent PR entry in mundoclasico.com (the
introduction to her PR critical edition for Iberautor Promociones
Culturales), goes back to 1659, when Calderón was indeed commissioned the
libretto for Philip IV's court celebration of the Peace of the Pyrenees and
worked together with Juan Hidalgo (1614-1685), the first person who set music
to the text. All this happened in Madrid (Spain). To get to 1701 and Lima we
need to go through several revivals of the opera (1679, 1690, and 1694,
according to Stein) and the commission of the opera’s production by the
Viceroy of Peru (probably in view of its success) to commemorate the 18th
birthday of King Philip V and first anniversary of his succession to the
throne. The composer of the Lima performance was Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco
(1644-1728), born in Spain and later a resident of today’s Peru for several
decades, a musician who, according to Stein, might have been a pupil of Hidalgo
(it’s not clear from Stein’s entry what exactly motivated a fresh composer
and thus score for the Lima performance, but apparently Torrejón left intact
much of Hidalgo’s original music, so credit should be given to both for the
The play and music themselves deserve more commentary that we can provide
here (the reader is invited to consult Stein’s article for supplementary
information). A highly allegorical text, PR tells the story of the
love between Venus (Roman goddess of love) and Adonis (a handsome youth), which
prompts the jealousy of Venus’ lover Mars (Roman god of war), and his attempt
at revenge. At the end Mars partially succeeds, as Adonis is killed by a boar
made vicious by Mars’ aids, which prompts Venus’ despair at the sight of
his lover’s blood, none other than the “púrpura” of the opera’s title:
y así, ¿para qué has de ver
que humana púrpura corre?
Tanto, que de ella animadas,
cada flor es un Adonis
[Belona: And so, why do you want to
see / / how human blood is running?
All: So much blood, that enlivened by
it, / / every flower is an Adonis]
(PR, v. 1356-1359)
In between, characters like Jealousy, Disillusion, Fear, or Anger, among
others, have tried to impart Mars a few lessons of prudential wisdom,
apparently to no avail; in the end love triumphs and Jupiter elevates Venus and
Adonis to Mount Olympus. The story, surprising for the candid celebration of
erotic love in such a religious-minded author as Calderón, is accompanied by
music that incorporates Latin American melodies and rhythms into an overall
European dramatic and harmonic structure, with which one can establish useful
comparisons with Renaissance or baroque composers such as Cabezón,
Frescobaldi, Scarlatti, or Couperin. The opera itself (that is, the story and
the music) can helpfully be compared with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas
and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo.
As for the performance, Le Château de la Voix deserves credit on various
grounds. First for its choice of a little-known opera that showcases a strong
and interesting tradition not seldom ignored in histories of classical music,
i.e. the Spanish (a fortiori, the colonial Spanish). Second for having
assembled a highly efficient orchestra composed of faculty members of the
University of Illinois School of Music (continuo group of harpsichord, viola de
gamba, guitars, lutes, and harp). Finally, for having coached a diverse group
of young vocal performers whose lack of expertise was amply made up for by
their enthusiasm and attunement to the intricacies of the Spanish baroque not
unusually convoluted ways of expressing artistic emotion.
A final linguistic note: the Real Academia
Española dictionary accepts “púrpura” as “human
blood” (7 th entry; poetical use), but in current Spanish the word
routinely means “purple” (the color) or, alternatively and more
technically, “purple dye murex” (a particular variety of medium-size sea
snail), which is the 1st entry given by the RAE. So much as
an indication that for Spanish speakers (at any rate present-day ones) the
expression “la púrpura de la rosa” still retains its original Baroque
Music by Tomás de Torrejon y Velasco (1644-1728)
Libretto by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681)
Saturday August 1 (7:30pm), Sunday August 2 (3pm), 2015, Smith Hall, University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Le Château de la Voix (summer vocal Academy) accompanied by a period
Click here for additional photos.