Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

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.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

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.

Songs for Nancy: Bampton Classical Opera celebrate legendary soprano, Nancy Storace

Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on 7th March at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A newly discovered song by Alma Mahler

It is well known that in addition to the fourteen songs by Alma Mahler published in her lifetime, several dozen more - perhaps as many as one hundred - were written and have been lost or destroyed.

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.



20 Jul 2016

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

The Verdi Requiem in Orange, Kalîla wa Dimna and Oedipus Rex in Aix

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Laurel Jenkins as Ismene, Josseph Kaiser as Oedipus, Pauline Cheviller as Antigone (closest) [Photo by Vincent Beaume, courtesy of the Aix Festival]


On July 15 the Arcanto Quartet, artists-in-residence at the Aix Festival, opened its program with the first and second four voiced fugues of the 14 fugues of the Art of the Fugue, the second fugue delighting in the dotted rhythms of French Baroque dance. This opening sequence of fugues concluded with the ninth fugue, a lively, double subject exercise rendered even more complex by invertible counterpoint.

In exquisite straight tone the four voices of the quartet fought elegantly for attention, converging finally and almost incidentally in the first fugue, then converging staunchly in the third fugue, these four consummate players in absolute control of the the most mature of fugal machinations.

The program continued with the 18 year-old Mendelssohn’s first string quartet that the composer prefaced "Is it true that you wait for me in the arbor by the vineyard wall?" The structures of this late-Beethoven inspired work dissolved into youthful sonic atmospheres of seasons, of light and shadow and plumbed the mysteries of nature and its magical forces in a myriad of colors and textures, the four voices of the quartet now one in infinite gestures of sentient sounds.

Arcanto_Aix.pngThe Arcanto Quartet

The program concluded with Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite. The quartet carefully and succinctly laid out the program of this six movement, late Romantic tone poem exploiting the composer’s fascination for his friend’s married sister. Here the sounds of the quartet delivered a monologue by a brilliant human psyche, no nuance of a very private drama overlooked in this journey into rarefied musical territory.

This concert was Western art at its most refined, its precious moments savored and self-consciously treasured.

On July 16 a magnificent theater of a dead civilization, the Théâtre Antique in Orange breathed death’s prayer, the requiem mass. It is Verdi’s most terrifying portrayal of any of his tortured souls. In this Orange requiem we were these souls, as indeed was all humanity.

Requiem_Orange.pngThe Eye of Providence, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, soloists and the Orfeón Donostiarra. Photo copyright Kris Picart, courtesy of the Chorégies d'Orange

The acoustic of this massive theater is unforgiving, every voice of the awesome Toulouse Orchestra laid bare, the three flutes and two human voices of the Agnus Dei cutting into the hearts of the many thousands of spectators, the 60 centimeter high hammer stokes of the tympani mallets creating the deliberated havoc of an angry God, the huge bass drum thunderclaps burying us in eternal damnation.

The final prayer, the Libera Me, is intoned by the soul graveside who knows its guilt and begs the mercy of God for its salvation. It is delivered by the purist of voices, the soprano whose range belies the innocence of a child, whose warmth encompasses the heart of a woman, and whose primal ancestor was the Eve of original sin.

Russian conductor Tugan Sokhiev with his splendid players, the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse sought universal humanity and not the particular sinner. The operatic drama of the individual soul was drowned by the hugeness of the theater, the one hundred five voices of the Orfeón Donostiarra from San Sebastion (Spain) and colossal, non-relevant, confusing and quite colorful iconography of the digital game-like images that were projected onto the huge scaenae frons of the Théâtre Antique. [This back wall is 61 meters wide by 31 meters high — 200 by 120 feet!]

In the late afternoon of July 17 the Aix Festival gave its final performance of a new opera entitled Kalîla wa Dimna (the names of a brother and sister), based on a Persian fable famous for its transcription by Ibn al-Muqaffa’ (executed in 759 AD) into narrative Arabic — a lion, jackal and raven trick a camel into sacrificing itself. In the opera a king is tricked into executing a poet whose song then posthumously reconciles populace with power.

Kalila_Aix.pngleft to right: Kalîla (sister), Dinma (brother), the poet, the king, the queen mother, photo by Patrick Berger / ArtcomArt

French/Palestinian composer Moneim Adwan combined elements of Arabic and Indian musical languages to create the 24 scenes that meticulously spell out deception and revelation. Five singers and five instrumentalists, all born and trained in the classical musical arts of north Africa or the Middle East, discovered many musical moods in richly melismatic singing and what seemed to be virtuoso levels of plucking, bowing, striking, and blowing mostly arabic instruments.

With lengthy narrations and perfunctory staging it was a theater piece with inserted songs more than an opera, and the heavily instructive intention of the story gave it the trappings of dogmatic oratorio. Most striking was the absence of relevance of its message to the Western world, and certainly its absence of relevance to the Arab world, civilizations shaken to their foundations in this twenty-first century. This 68th Aix Festival in particular was laden with social, intellectual and artistic complexities in which this opera was an island of innocence, an interesting and enlightening, too lengthy excursion into an alternative musical language.

The afternoon’s world of Arabic innocence, its innocuous play on power and pity gave way in the evening to the shattering intellectual proportions of an individual soul — the powerful Oedipus. The Grand Théâtre de Provence hosted Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex, the king of Thebes who confronts his blindness to know what he could not know, the savior of Thebes who must confess his sacrileges in searing melismas and become an object of pity.

Oedipus_Aix1.pngOedipus and Antigone with singers of the Orphei Drängar, photo by Vincent Beaume, courtesy of the Aix Festival

Shattering as well was the volume of sound pouring forth from the pit, Esa-Pekke Salonen’s magnificent Philharmonia Orchestra. The 75 voices of Orphei Drängar, the famed all male choir from Uppsula, Sweden shouted the glory of Oedipus’ power and their anger at his betrayal at unprecedented acoustic levels, and finally whispered their pity for their errant king.

Peter Sellars, the sixty-year-old wunderkind genius of late twentieth century opera ignored the text Stravinsky provided for narrator, making his own narrative adaptation for female voice of the Sophocles tragedy that would continue into Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms to complete the evening following an intermission.

This choral symphony was intoned by some seventy Christian singers comprised of members of Orphei Drängar, plus Sweden’s Gustaf Sjökvist Chamber Choir and its Sofia Vokalensemble. The blinded Oedipus, here bravely acted by the now silenced, splendid Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser was led onto the stage by Oedipus’ daughter Antigone, the narrator for both pieces, and by her dancer sister Ismene (a Peter Sellars addition to the mythic forces at play in the Oedipus Rex).

Oedipus_Aix2.pngSingers of the Orphei Drängar, photo by Vincent Beaume, courtesy of the Aix Festival

The Salonen pit begged redemption and peace for the soul of Oedipus in thundering exclamations as the lines of singers moved their arms in synchronized motions indicating abstracted, distilled universal participation in this neo-Classical musical world, Oedipus was led across the stage to be placed in a square of light (outlined by four neon tubes) while the chorus shouted praises of the Lord (Psalm 150). In the midst of this celebration Oedipus walked off stage left. The final image of this Symphony of Psalms was Antigone and Ismene embracing downstage right, each comforting the other.

In the aftermath of the tragedy in Nice each of us in Aix and Orange will have seen and felt these magnificent works of art in our own way. These were my perceptions.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Quatuor Arcanto Violin I: Antje Weithaas; Violin II: Daniel Sepec; Viola: Tabea Zimmermann; Cello: Jean-Guihen Queyras. Conservatoire Darius Milhaud, Aix-en-Provence, July 15, 2016).

Verdi Requiem
Soprano: Erika Grimaldi; Mezzo: Ekaterina Gubanova; Tenor: Joseph Calteja; Bass: Vitalij Kowaljow; Chorus: Orfeón Donostiarra. Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Conductor: Tugan Sokhiev. Projections: Philippe Druillet. Thèâtre Antique, Orange, France, July 16, 2016.

Kalîla wa Dimna
kalîla: Ranine Chaar; Dimna: Moneim Adwan; Le Roi: Mohamed Jebali; La Mère du roi: Reem Talhami; Chatraba: Jean Chahid. Music Director: Zied Zouari; Mise en scène: Olivier Letellier; Scenery Philippe Casaban and Eric Charbeau; Costumes: Nathalie Prats; Lighting: Sébastion Revel. Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, Aix-en-Provence, July 17, 2016.

Oedipus Rex / Symphony of Psalms
Oedipus: Joseph Kaiser; Jocasta: Violeta Urmana; Créon / Tirésias / Messanger: Sir Willard White; Shepherd: Joshua Stewart; Antigone (spoken): Pauline Cheviller; Ismene (dancer): Laurel Jenkins. Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen; Mise en scène: Peter Sellars. Grand Théâtre de Provence, July 17, 2016.

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):