Recently in Performances
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.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
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.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
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.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
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.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
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.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
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’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
03 Dec 2016
Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
was their intermediate break, but the Mahler performance tonight felt a bit
lackluster. It was Composer-in-Residence Detlev Glanert’s thrilling
Theatrum Bestiarium that left me most impressed as I biked home that
My expectations for Bychkov’s Mahler debut were quite high, after I
witnessed his growing sterling synergy with the RCO in previous seasons with
Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie and Ein Heldenleben. Each
exuberant and sweeping me off my feet. Tonight he missed that cohesion and
brilliance. Bychkov’s reached a graceful, but demure ambience. More nobly
restrained than fiery; chivalrous rather than heated. Overall each segment was
decent in musical beauty, but never moving.
A highlight included Omar Tomasoni’s trumpet solos. In the opening
Trauermarsch he served up moments of brilliance with a devoted air,
producing some sour shrills. He ruled the first movement and later returned
with more of his distinct curvy phrasing with his intensity consistently
growing in verve and resonance. Such stamina!
Mahler’s Fifth contains arguably his most Romantic music in the
Adagietto. Mengelberg was an ambassador for Mahler’s work, who
conducted this symphony in Amsterdam in 1906. This fourth movement is a love
letter to his wife Alma, as she wrote to the Titan Mengelberg about a poem on
longing included by her husband.
The Adagietto has enormous power to disarm through the dreamy harp
and lush strings. With all its decency, Bychkov’s influence did not reach
emotive depth; his conducting expressive, authentically passionate without
overreacted theatricality. His result made for more of a soothing experience,
rather than capturing Mahler’s swooning Romance.
Before the intermission, I was surprised by my enjoyment of Detlev
Glanert’s Theatrum Bestiarum. Glanert suggests this work as a
precursor to his opera Caligula. I felt pleasantly uprooted by its
violent momentum. This is the third time the RCO scheduled this work. I grow
more fond of it with every performance.
“In Theatrum bestiarum I visit a zoo of human beings,”
Glanert declared. At many moments I could envision his concept. This
“dark and wild series of “Songs and Dances for Large
Orchestra”, in which the audience looks in upon the dissection of man as
beast,‟ opens with psychological horror through incisive strings burning with
fire. Glanert dedicated this work to Shostakovich, and his Eleventh Symphony
seems of particular influence. It also reminded me of the violence of Bernard
Herrmann’s Psycho score.
As a guest performer visiting, Erwin Wiersinga mastered the
Concertgebouw’s legendary Maarschalkerweerd Organ. His thunderous volume
just as impressive as the subtleties of the calmer passages.
The twenty-two minute piece premiered in 2005. Glanert said his
compositional inspiration comes from the “simple and dramatic sense of
Mahler’s structure.” This contrasts is evident in the emotional
drama: from powerful fortissimos to jazzy pianissimo phrases, while the winds
section lands on cushioning strings. Bychkov conducted with strict tempi,
highly focused yet still more expressive in sound than in Mahler later.
It’s encouraging to hear the RCO programming this work more
frequently, as it becomes part of its repertoire. Combining it with Mahler
provides an enriching contrast for both works. After the much lauded world
premiere of his Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch earlier this month, this
programming proved yet another fruitful collaboration between the RCO and its
Composer-in-Residence Detlev Glanert.
The folks in NYC and DC will be in for a treat when the Amsterdam entourage
performs across the Atlantic.