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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago
A review by Salvatore Calomino
Above: Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
The title role is performed by Albina Shagimuratova, who sang an excerpt from this opera at Millennium Park, Chicago several seasons ago. Lucia’s beloved Edgardo di Ravenswood is sung by Piotr Beczała and her brother, Lord Enrico Ashton, by Quinn Kelsey. A major company debut is scored by Adrian Sâmpetrean in the role of Raimondo, the chaplain and tutor to Lucia. The parts of Alisa, Normanno, and Lord Arturo Bucklaw are performed by Lindsay Metzger, Matthew DiBattista, and Jonathan Johnson. Enrique Mazzola makes his debut conducting these performances and the Chorus Master is Michael Black.
During the overture a plaid scrim, emphasizing Scottish family clans, covers the stage. The title of the opera appears in blood-red script at the base of the scrim. Slow tempi encouraged at first by Mr. Mazzola allow for an appreciation of orchestral detail and contrast which commences at the moment that characters begin to interact. Staged concepts are displayed in this production by means of a series of horizontal and vertical moving panels. In the first scene Normanno and his band of henchmen search fruitlessly through the stylized heather for evidence of an intruder on the Ashton lands. The entrance of Enrico and Raimondo identifies the suspected culprit as Edgardo di Ravenswood, enemy to Enrico and secret lover of the latter’s sister Lucia. The bright, excited projection of accusations by Mr. DiBattista’s Normanno gives fire to the troubled soul of Enrico. Mr. Kelsey embodies here the spirit of his self-descriptive line, “Io fremo” [“I seethe with rage”]. Throughout the balance of the scene Kelsey unleashes his lines with dramatic force, often giving preference to declamatory emphasis over a traditional bel canto line. His performance of “Cruda, funesta smania” [“Cruel, baneful torment”] exemplifies this approach to the character of Enrico. While incorporating some notable embellishments in the aria, he uses a dominant forte approach to various lines such as “amor sì perfido” [“such a perfidious love”]. Once the suspicion of Edgardo’s identity is indeed confirmed by the searching chorus, Raimondo makes the case for Lucia’s innocence. Already in this brief exchange Mr. Sâmpetrean demonstrates an admirably flexible, rich bass voice which he uses to good effect in character delineation. Enrico’s reaction to the news of Lucia’s suitor intensifies an earlier fury, shown here by Kelsey’s performance of the cabaletta “La pietade in suo favore” [“compassion for her”] with unrelenting determination.
The following scenes of the act introduce Lucia, her confidante Alisa, and Edgardo. The heroine’s initial aria, “Regnava nel silenzio” [“Ruled (the night) enveloped in silence”], is performed by Ms. Shagimuratova with careful shaping and a firm sense for legato; her narration of Lucia’s vision at the fountain matches the apprehension of the heroine with a tentative, dramatic approach. In the second piece, “Quando rapito in estasi” [“When enraptured, ecstatic”], as Lucia’s misgivings yield to the joy of her lover’s projected arrival, Shagimuratova incorporates florid decoration, an effective diminuendo, and at least the suggestion of a trill. Her interaction with Ms. Metzger’s supportive Alisa prepares for the emotional reception of Edgardo. When Mr. Beczała appears, sporting a contrasting red tartan, he states with forthright conviction his plan to leave the “patrie” by morning. Beczała’s emotional reaction to Lucia’s fear is here believably expressed by his forte pitches “il sangue mio” [“my blood”] and the chill with which he invests “m’odi e trema” [“listen to me and tremble”]. Although Edgardo must narrate here the conflict engendered by his father’s murder with his present love, Beczała does not depart from a lyrical flow. His continued urging leads to the mutual spousal vows and the exchange of rings. The duet “Verranno a te” [“(my sighs) will come to you”] is in these performances a vocal highpoint of the act with both singers moving from piano tenderness to heartfelt avowal of their affection before parting.
In Act II Enrico, Lucia, and Raimondo interact in several key scenes leading to the heroine’s subsequent transformation. In the first of these the production emphasizes the familial split by means of panels: Enrico is seated at his desk in the company of Normanno, while Lucia appears simultaneously in the garden outdoors next to the moonlit gnarled tree where she had earlier met her lover. Enrico’s troubled spirit is given an appropriately brooding release by Kelsey, who summarizes in a breathless flow the family’s precarious standing. Once he dispatches Normanno to carry out the plans for a wedding, Lucia is escorted into his writing chamber. The line “Appressati, Lucia” [“Come nearer, Lucia”] is uttered by Kelsey with a snake’s duplicity as he tries to reason with the young girl who already shows the librettist Cammarano’s “sintomi d’una alienazione mentale” [“signs of madness”]. Lucia sits stiffly in a period chair and refuses to consider her brother’s coaxing to save the family by marrying Lord Arturo Bucklaw. Once she is shown a forged letter written allegedly by her Edgardo, the girl is weakened further by the presumption of her lover’s inconstancy. As Kelsey comforts Lucia with an embrace, here both kneeling together, he rationalizes her “folle perfido amore” [“foolish perfidious love”] with a strong sense of melodic line. In their duet, “Se tradirmi tu potrai” [“If you can betray me”] Shagimuratova displays excited vocalism yet begins to yield symbolically to Enrico by allowing him here to dominate their concluding lines. This shift is reinforced in Lucia’s subsequent duet with Raimondo. In this scene Mr. Sâmpetrean truly shines in his aria, “Ah, cedi, cedi!” [“Ah, relent!”], in which he uses carefully wrought embellishments in a progressively rising line as a means of convincing Lucia to yield to Enrico’s plan. Equally impressive are Sâmpetrean’s secure, lower register and his varied technique in the piece “Oh! qual gioia!” [“Oh, what joy!”] while he celebrates Lucia’s agreement.
At the start of the following scene the chorus welcomes Arturo Bucklaw as the savior of the troubled Ashton household. In his brief aria “Per poco fra le tenebre” [“For a short time in the darkness”] Mr. Johnson’s Arturo addresses Enrico with assurances for the future. Johnson’s attractive technique incorporates elegant legato phrasing and high pitches securely fixed to the significant line “amico, fratello e difensor” [“friend, brother, and protector”], all of which he swears to become. As soon as the document is signed, with still notable resistance by Lucia, her lover Edgardo bursts into the room. The renowned sextet as highlight toward the close of the act is here well blocked, such that individual performers are distinctly heard yet all blend sonorously in passages where vocal lines converge. Afterward, Mr. Beczała’s effective cry of “Maledetto sia l’istante” [“Cursed be the moment”], his judgement against Lucia’s presumed treachery, returns the act to a level of tension even higher than earlier.
The four vocal scenes of the final act are a direct result of this inflamed spirit of enmity and continued misunderstanding. At first Edgardo and Enrico face each other at Wolf’s Crag, estate of the unhappy lover. Although Enrico has sealed the marriage of his sister, his heart yet thirsts for revenge, “La vendetta mi parlava!” While each defends his family’s position, the two men agree to a duel at dawn. In their duet Kelsey returns to a dramatically rough edge to underscore vocally his character’s intent for the present, whereas Beczała’s flights into lyrical ardor latch more emotionally onto his father’s memory.
The following scene begins as celebration and ends with tragic consequences. At first the chorus dances and sings in jubilation at Lucia’s wedding; they are interrupted by Raimondo announcing tragedy from the bridal chamber, that Lucia has murdered her husband. In his aria “Dalle stanze ove Lucia” [“From the rooms where Lucia”] Sâmpetrean enunciates “quelle mura” [“into the chamber”] with quiet dignity as though in sympathy with a higher power. His imitation of Lucia’s query for her husband shifts to a confused intonation with a deeply rolled -rr- as he describes her demented smile [“un sorriso balenò”]. When joined by the chorus in praying for forgiveness from “heaven’s” wrath, Sâmpetrean holds an extended pitch on “ciel” long after the choral expression of shock subsides.
The following mad scene shows Shagimuratova at her best of this performance. With a face tinted white to emphasize her “pallor,” she incorporates multiple embellishments to illustrate the current deranged state of her character’s persona. Glides drifting upward, scales and roulades performed flawlessly, and individual pitches taken flat or sustained are a credible appeal to the “ciel clemente” [“merciful heaven”] where her delusion seeks happiness. The pendant to this magnificent vocal display is sung by Beczała in the final scene. He gives an equally virtuosic account of “Fra poco a me ricovero” [“Soon refuge for me”], where he modulates his voice to accommodate accusation with an ultimate tone of forgiveness. When Raimondo announces Lucia’s death, “È in cielo” [“She is in heaven”] with a flawless melisma on the final word, Edgardo can wait no longer. Perhaps the reaction to Lucia’s death before his own suicide is best expressed here by his coloring of the phrase “sì crude guerra” [“such cruel agony”] to describe the ultimate effect of selfish human strife on the most innocent of loves.
Lyric Opera is to be congratulated for assembling such a premiere cast to give a fresh interpretation to a repertoire staple.