Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
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.