Recently in Performances
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.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
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.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
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.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
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.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
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.
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’.
06 Dec 2016
L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera
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.
Kaija Saariaho is a composer fêted
the world over and the United States has been a bit tardy in perceiving her
charm. (The opera’s premiere was at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and the
Santa Fe Opera produced it in 2002, but Darmstadt, Bern, Bergen, Toronto and
Quebec all beat the Met to the punch.)
Saariaho is Finnish and studied at the Sibelius Academy. She then
struck out for the avant-garde study centers of Europe: Freiburg, Darmstadt and
then Paris where she worked at IRCAM, Pierre Boulez’ famous institute for
experimental music. At IRCAM she worked with composers who experiment
with combining electronic sounds with acoustic music. The term
spectral music was first used to describe the style by Hugh Dufourt, a
philosopher and composer, in 1979, but recently the term has been resuscitated
and Saariaho’s growing fame and popularity has brought the term to a
The Met opera production by Robert Lepage is a visual masterpiece. Photos
cannot convey the almost palpable illusion of water created by rows of LED
lights. The show began with a total blackout — including the orchestra
pit — then tiny lights appeared like small twinkling stars — then
the dots of lights grew into shimmering lines of light which resembled ocean
waves. A beautiful verse in Amin
Maalouf’s libretto based on the history and songs of a
twelfth-century troubadour Jaufré Rudel (sung by Philadelphia’s
bass-baritone Eric Owens) has Jaufré ask of the Pilgrim (sung by
mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford) “Why is the sea blue? Why is the sky
Eric Owens as Jaufré Rudel and Susanna Phillips as Clémence
Susanna Phillips, the soprano who plays Clémence, the Countess of
Tripoli, the unrequited and unknown love of the troubadour, has lovely pure
high notes and it is a good thing because that is mostly what she gets to sing.
The part of the Pilgrim has a much more melodic score. Rudel’s first
songs are quite hard to hear in the very lowest part of his range, but the
score for his duets with the Pilgrim and with Clémence were clearer.
The program notes by Cori Ellison, a dramaturg at Glyndebourne Festival
Opera and a member of the vocal arts faculty at Julliard School, contain some
outrageous sentences like: “The dearth of apparent action
through the opera’s two hours is mirrored in the illusion of musical
stagnation, by now a trademark of Saariaho’s music.”
Don’t let that scare you, I stayed awake for the entire show.
Ellison also wrote the subtitles, which were interesting at best. Lines like
“he is my outremer” kept appearing. (“Outremer” means overseas in French and I suspect the message was that
Clémence’s fascination with Rudel was due to the fact that he was
a foreign exotic.) The wordplay in the original libretto by Maalouf of
the word “clément” and “Clémence” also came out
rather awkwardly in English, but that would have been tough to
The orchestration was the highlight of the opera. Bassoon lines came through
as wavy and oceanic, the oboe took the dreamy and twinkly phrases and the
electronic sounds of the keyboard added mystery, as did the watery, pedaled
notes on the piano. The strings were used to enhance the ethereality. There was little brass in the score, but the piccolo provided strategic punctuation.
Another coup for this production was to have a woman wield the baton.
Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki,
in her Met debut, managed to form a composite of the ethereal sounds and kept
the pace as much as possible, although even she was challenged by the tediously
long ending. The warm hug between female composer and female conductor on the
Met stage was a historic moment for women in music. Put that in your pipe and
smoke it, Mr. Toscanini.
L’Amour de loin is a stunning achievement but I cannot help
feeling that Saariaho’s chamber music seems more structured than her
orchestrations. The performances of her string quartet Terra
Memoria and her trio Mirage for soprano, cello and piano, each of
which I heard at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, left a more indelible
musical impression on me than L’amour, but the production is
well worth seeing. Don’t worry about the dearth of action; it is
the lot of most troubadours. Think of poor old Tristan.