On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
Baroque at the Edge: London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017
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.
Baroque at the Edge, London Festival of Baroque Music, 12-20 May 2017
Artistic Director Lindsay Kemp said:
“This year’s two anniversary composers come from opposite ends of the
Baroque era, which got me thinking about ways in which musical styles
and tastes change over time. At times such as the transition from
Renaissance to Baroque around 1600, and from Baroque to Classical
around 1750, change can come quickly and different styles end up
jostling with each other. These corners of music history, and the whole
idea of blurred edges and crossed boundaries, is what has given us our
Festival theme this year.”
This year there are 13 concerts over 9 days, with highlights including
Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 from the stellar partnership of
Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; the
Pergolesi Stabat mater with Early Opera Company under Christian
Curnyn with soloists Lucy Crowe and Tim Mead; Telemann’s cantataIno with Florilegium and Elin Manahan Thomas; Monteverdi'sOrfeo with I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth; Handel’s Jephtha with the Holst Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music
under Stephen Layton; string-ensemble music by Biber, Schmelzer and Fux
from Swiss ensemble Les Passions de l’Ame (with Turkish percussion!); and a
harpsichord recital (entitled ‘Le Vertigo’) by Jean Rondeau.
Monteverdi’s iconic Vespers of 1610 is a classic example of a work
at the edge, juxtaposing the newest musical techniques of the early Baroque
with the older methods of the Renaissance. Ultimately this makes it not
just a work of stylistic reconciliation but also one of unparalleled
expressive richness. On Sunday 14 May at 7.30pm, this glorious music will
be performed by two top-class ensembles, both of whom have made strong
impressions at the Festival in the past: Belgian vocal ensembleVox Luminis and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, coming together for the first
time for this project.
Like the Vespers, Monteverdi’s first opera Orfeo has one
foot in the world of Baroque vocal expression and the other in Renaissance
traditions, in this case those of court entertainment and madrigal. But it
is also music history’s first great opera, a work of power, depth and
beauty that never ceases to enthral. Written for Monteverdi's own regular
vocal ensemble, it will be performed on Thursday 18 May at 7.45pm at St John's Smith Square by Monteverdi masters I Fagiolini in
their 30th anniversary year, with the brilliant Matthew Long as the virtuosic demi-God of singing, and a full
cast of singers with a strong background in Monteverdi's secular and sacred
music. Directed by Robert Hollingworth, it is given in an
imaginative semi-staging by Thomas Guthrie that was first performed by I
Fagiolini in Venice in 2015.
Opening this year's festival on Friday 12 May at 7.30pm at St John's Smith
Square is the Early Opera Company, under the musical
direction of Christian Curnyn, with
Pergolesi’s exquisite and profoundly moving Stabat mater, with
soprano Lucy Crowe and countertenorTim Mead as soloists. Pergolesi was one of the 18 th century’s most influential and admired composers, and did
much to power the stylistic transition from the Baroque to the Classical
style in music. Curnyn and his superb ensemble also include more music from
the late Baroque cutting edge with fire-cracker modernistic orchestral
pieces by WF and CPE Bach.
On Saturday 13 May at 4pm at St Peter's Eaton Square, rising virtuoso Jean Rondeau
(‘One of the most natural performers one is likely to hear on a
classical music stage these days a
master of his instrument.’
Washington Post) explores the flamboyant, poetic and compelling fantasy
world of the French harpsichord repertoire, with character pieces, preludes
and dances music by two of its most brilliant exponents, Jean-Philippe
Rameau and Pancrace Royer.
On the evening of Saturday 13 May at 7.00pm at St John's Smith Square,
leading British ensemble Florilegium focus on one of
2017’s great anniversary composers, Georg Philipp Telemann. Their concert
puts Telemann the man of the High Baroque up against Telemann the
progressive with two works from his final decade, including a powerful late
masterpiece, the extraordinary and dramatic cantata Ino. This work
is rarely heard in concert so this is an exceptional opportunity to
experience it sung by Elin Manahan Thomas. Before it
Florilegium perform one of the enduring favourites of the Baroque concerto
repertoire - Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.
The London Festival of Baroque Music's annual visit to Westminster Abbey on
Tuesday 16 May at 7pm honours Bach’s late masterpiece, his Mass in B Minor, compiled and adapted in his final years from
earlier works and seemingly devised as a summation of his life’s work as a
composer of sacred music. From joy to grief, celebration to supplication
and triumph to penitence this is one the great monuments of Western music.
It will be performed by The Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James's Baroque under James O'Donnell.
Swiss string ensemble Les Passions de l’Ame give their UK
full concert debut on Wednesday 17 May at 7.30pm at St John's Smith Square, under their violinist director Meret Lüthi. Their programme is entitled
‘Edge of Europe’, and presents string music from 17th-century
Austria, at that time Christian Europe’s interface with the Ottoman Empire.
The music, by Schmelzer, Biber, Fux and Walther is imaginative and often
quirky, enhanced in Les Passions de l’Ame’s performance by the colourful
addition of Turkish percussion.
There’s another meeting of cultures in the 9.30pm ‘Late o’Clock Baroque’
concert on Saturday 13 May at St John’s Smith Square, when harpsichordist
Jean Rondeau makes his second appearance of the Festival, this time in the
company of lutenist Thomas Dunford and classical Persian percussionist
Keyvan Chemirani. All three musicians are superb improvisers, and in a
project they have entitled ‘Jasmin Toccata’ they meld Persian percussion
and Baroque instruments in imaginative transformations of European masters
such as Scarlatti and Purcell and major composers from the Persian
tradition. The result (in their words) is ‘a vivid toccata that echoes the
sensuality of Jasmin’.
The Festival’s focus on young artists continues this year with three more
Future Baroque lunchtime concerts at St John’s Smith Square featuring some of the best new talent on the Baroque music scene. This year
there are concerts by two instrumental groups: Ensemble Molière in a
programme of music by Telemann and his French friends Blavet, Guignon and
Forqueray (Friday 12 May at 1.05pm); and Ensemble Hesperi, who will be introducing us to music from 18 th-century Scotland (Wednesday 17 May at 1.05pm). The third and final concert is a solo harpsichord recital by Nathaniel
Mander, who will perform works by English composers from Byrd to JC Bach
(Friday 19 May at
On Friday 19 May at
The Festival ends on Saturday 20 May at 7.00pm at St John’s Smith Square with a performance of Handel’s last, and in many people’s opinion best,
dramatic oratorio Jephtha. Stephen Layton
conducts the Holst Singers, the Academy of Ancient Music and a fine cast of young singers
led by Nick Pritchard as the Israelite warrior who lives to regret a rash
vow to God.
In addition to these concerts, the Festival also features 'Sing Baroque', a
special amateur choral workshop with conductor Robert Howarth on Sunday 14 May at
To quote Lindsay Kemp again:
“As ever it has been enormous fun to create a Festival around an
unusual theme, one that allows us to programme rarely heard but
deserving music alongside familiar works that reveal themselves in new
and particular contexts. It shows just how deep, complex and varied
Baroque music can be!”