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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.
03 Oct 2016
Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Even before the First World War, during which he served on the front line, Braunfels was preparing what is now his best-known work, the opera Die Vögel, which helped launch the seminally important series on Decca 20 years ago, which pioneered the rediscovery of Entartete Musik, the "degenerate" music the Nazis hated. Although his career dimmed, Braunfels wasn't actively suppressed by the regime, even though he was a half-Jewish convert. His three sons all served in the German army. His music itself would have made him an outsider to the Nazis and their taste for unquestioning sentimentality in art. Die Vögel is based on Aristophanes. Braunfels's treatment of the play highlights its powerful underlying message. The Birds aren't so much passive objects of beauty but the voices of women protesting against dominant hierarchies. Braunfels continually returned to these basic concepts throughout his career. In Jeanne d'Arc, Szenen aus dem Leben der heiligen Johanna and Die Verkündigung , Braunfels used medievalism as a disguise for ideas that were dangerous in a totalitarian regime. Braunfels was a resistance fighter no less, using the Gothic to subvert the Nazi preoccupation with glorifying the past. In Der Traum ein Leben, Braunfels even depicts a talentless fool following a false Fuhrer. The orchestration is lush but highly ironic. Attempts to rebrand Braunfels as dreamy-eyed romantic inflict on him a kind of posthumous castration.
This new recording begins with the Vorspiel und Prolog der Nachtigall Op 30/3 1913) a coloratura display for soprano and orchestra, a sampler for the full opera Die Vögel which premiered in 1920. Exquisitely refined playing from the Staatskapelle Weimar, emphasizing the delicacy of the scoring: to remind us that birds are fragile, like the ideas they symbolize in the opera. Valentina Farcas sings the fiendishly difficult part with assurance, not quite as miraculously as Hellen Kwon did for Lothar Zagrosek in 1997, though more idiomatically than some since. Kwon made the part feel almost supernaturally ethereal, like an elemental force of nature, which, arguably, is what the role is all about.
In Zwei Hölderlin-Gesänge op 27 (1916-18) Michael Volle is a commanding presence, and rightly so, for the poems have a strange unworldly quality "Willkommen dann, o Stille der Schattenwelt!" the poet wrote, wrote, fixated by death. The second song, Der Tod fürs Vaterland is even more unsettling. Swirling, almost Wagnerian flourishes in the orchestra lead to stillness, for we are on a battlefield awaiting the Valkyries. The legend long pre-dated Wagner. For Hölderlin "Fremdling und brüderlich ists hier unten" might have meant noble sacrifice, but to Braunfels, in the last years of the war, words like "O Vaterland,Und zähle nicht die Toten! Dir ist,Liebes! nicht Einer zu viel gefallen" would not have felt so grand. Significantly, Hölderlin came from Württemberg, which supplied Napoleon with thousands of troops, most of whom died in Russia in 1812, a detail not lost on Braunfels, who marked on the manuscript that it was written "in the forest camp at Neu-Württemberg at Christmas 1916". These two songs are neatly complemented by Auf ein Soldatengrab op 26 to a poem by Hermann Hesse, written in 1915 : new poetry, new music and very topical.
"Dich, Nachtigall, verstand ich eine Stunde" sings Klaus Florian Vogt in Abschied vom Walde op 30/1 which Hoffegut sings in Die Vögel when he leaves the Nightingale in the woods, and returns home a wiser man. The lustre of Vogt's singing makes one feel that Hoffegut learned more from the birds of the forest than Siegfried ever could.
This selection of orchestral songs has a wonderful unity, underlining the importance of respecting Braunfels as an intellectual as well as a composer. They are nicely set into place by Braunfels's Don Juan op 34 (1922-4) variations on the Champagne Aria from Mozart Don Giovanni. Seven variations follow the initial Theme, all of them played briskly, reflecting the humour oif the original. Leporello is perplexed and the aria is delightfully funny. But there's a darker side, as Donna Elvira discovers. One day, Don Giovanni will pay for this frivolity. Thus, beneath the post Jugendstil decorative filigree lurks menace. Variation 4 is serene, but Variation 5 ( Mässig-bewegter) begins with an ominous boom , as if winds were sweeping upwards, from a tomb. Is the Commendatore emerging? The mood in Variation 6 (Andante) is equivocal, the theme emerging on a solo wind instrument, "clouds" of rumbling strings enveloping it. In the final Variation (Presto) the old devil is back to his tricks, flying fleetingly, the brass blowing raspberries of defiance, though the ending, is, as we know, defeat . Braunfels is much more than a study in techiques and adaptation. It's a miniature opera, without words.
Congratulations to Oehms Classics for this superlative recording of Braunfels's Orchestral Songs, so good that I've already ordered the next in the series. But the same standards of excellence don't apply to the programme notes. What relevance does Yoko Ono have for Braunfels, happily married as he was? These songs aren't about love. This is something that Oehms should take more seriously. Good notes are important because they can enhance the listening experience: well-informed readers can better appreciate what they're listening to.