Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Wilhelm Stenhammer : Gillet Pa Solhaug, Sterling World Premiere Recordings
It is well worth shelling out for, since Gillet på Solhaug is good listening and the new critical edition, by Anders Wiklund, should establish a reputation for early Swedish opera. Wilhelm Stenhammer (1871-1927), like most musicians of the time, studied in Berlin and Florence, but worked primarily in Sweden. As a composer, he is extremely well known for his songs, chamber music and piano works. Gildet på Solhaug, completed in 1893, was his first formal opera. It premiered at the Hoftheater Stuttgart in 1899 and at Stockholm Opera in 1902.
Gillet på Solhaug begins with a brief introduction not a formal overture, and moves almost immediately to the core of the drama. At a drunken party, Knut Gaesling, a notorious thug, spies, Signe, a delicate maiden and swears he will marry her. His friend, Erik fra Haegge, agrees, so as far as Knut is concerned the deal,is done whatever Signe might think. Marriage as horse trading. Knut hasn't reckoned on Margit, Signe's strong-willed older sister. In a long and moving soliloquy "Vel var det, han gik", she describes herself: The bride of Solhaug, wealthy but so desperately unhappy she longs for death. The part is written for a mezzo with good lower resonance, suggesting Margit's inner strength. As Knut sneers, Margit should have been a priest. Signe is written for high soprano, suggesting innocence, the music around her skipping innocently. Seven years before, Margit and Gudmund Alfsøn had pledged their love. Now he's an outlaw and she's married another man. Margit tries to hide her feelings but the music says what she can't, but with a clean, pure chastity that fits her character. Gudmund's a harpist: Stenhammer lets his music sing.
In the second act, the feast at Solhaug is in full swing, drunken guests carousing to the sounds of Hardanger fiddle, scored for modern orchestra. Stenhammer's background in writing for voice, choir and orchestra comes to the fore, providing an ironic backdrop to the action unfolding. Knut's machinations are brutal,Gudmund's declaration of love for Signe is thrown into chill perspective. But Margit dominates above all. Her lines are grave and dignified. The purity of Margit's line expresses something deep in her soul. What a pity the English translations are risible. "How should I quiver my magic lay"("Hvor skulde jeg kvade" in Danish, "Wie woll't ich singen" in German) and "I'd fain fling it down to the neckan hard by" ("Skaenke den til nøkken dernede"). Margit's mixing poison.
A long, mysterious passage, with low woodwinds describes the night scene, when then guests depart. Suddenly, the pace accelerates. High winds and brass and a swooping string diminuendo suggest alarm. What is happening in the darkness ? In I morgen så drager vel Gudmund herfra, lit by mournful bassoons, Margit sings of a child born blind, whose sight us restored by witchcraft. But the magic can't last: the child falls blind again, but this time with the pain of knowing what he's lost. In contrast, Bengt's bluff, crude music underlines Margit's torment. Though they've been married three years. he still thinks he's done her a favour because she once was poor. He's only saved from drinking the poison when news arrives from outside. Knut's defeated, Gudmund';s won favour with the King and will marry Signe. Bengt lives, but Margit can't go on. Her final aria "Skaemennede engel, fromme og milde" is powerful : better to renounce the worlds than endure a living death. Wonderful, shimmering string textures, Gudmund and Signe join in with wonder, and a choir in reverent, clean tones, sings about rays of light, emanating from Heaven. Although photos of early stagings show elaborate furnishings and sets. Margit's story is, fundamentally, one of renunciation. Hence the purity of Stenhammer's setting. Wagnerian or Verdian excess would not work quite so well. Margit, for all the intensity of her passions, is essentially a country girl whose instincts lie with purity.
This performance was conducted by Henrik Schaefer with the Symphony Orchestra of Norrköping and Choruses, recorded in August 2015 in connection with Swedish Radio. Matilda Paulsson sang Margit, Karolina Andersson sang Signe, Per Håkan Precht sang Gudmund, Fredrik Zetterström sang Bengt, Erik Lundh sang Erik and Mathias Zachariassen sang Knut. Definitely a recommendation! Please also see my piece on Hugo Wolf Das Fest auf SolhaugHERE, where Wolf;s incidental music is blended with a very good modern narration, very much in the spirit of 19th century German story telling drama.