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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
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.
18 Jan 2017
MOZART 250: the year 1767
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’.
The music of the 11-year-old Mozart did not, however, dominate this
performance at the Wigmore Hall. For while the prodigious feats of the
musical wunderkind were certainly feted across Europe at this time - when
he was just 6 years old, Francis I of Vienna referred to him as ‘ein kleine
hexenmeister’ (a little master-wizard) - there was still some way to go
before the teenager would find his mature creative voice. The programme was
instead a smorgasbord of arias, secular and sacred, by composers both
renowned and relatively obscure, set alongside three of Mozart’s adolescent
offerings. The talented young singers who joined Page and his
period-instrument orchestra struggled to make something meaningful of the
multi-flavoured mix of miniatures.
There were some strong performances to admire, though, and some
little-known treasures to enjoy, not least the duetting of soprano Gemma
Summerfield and Emilia Benjamin’s viola da gamba in ‘Frena le belle
lagrime’ from Carl Friedrich Abel’s opera Sifari. This pasticcio,
on which Abel collaborated with Baldassare Galuppi and Johann Christian
Bach, was presented on 5 March 1767 at the King’s Theatre Haymarket as a
benefit performance for the celebrated castrato Tommaso Guarducci, with
Abel - a skilled viola da gamba and viol player - himself playing the solo
part. The text of the aria is taken from Metastasio’s L’eroe cinese.
Summerfield’s well-shaped line and variety of colour aptly conveyed the
protagonist’s attempt to resist the flood of ‘soft affections’ and the
‘throbs’ of love which the tears of the beholden inspire, and she varied
the vocal nuance to match Abel’s unusual modulations. Voice and viola da
gamba trilled consonantly at the close of the first section; perhaps more
elaborate vocal ornamentation would have enlivened later verses? Benjamin’s
preludes and solo commentaries were eloquent but frequently, even though
the strings were muted, the viola da gamba struggled to be heard. More
animation in the second section, which was accompanied by alert pizzicato,
might have generated greater dramatic interest.
Summerfield opened the evening’s vocal items with an aria by a composer
unfamiliar to me: Florian Leopold Gassmann. Appointed to succeed Gluck as
ballet composer in Vienna in 1763, and the teacher of Salieri, Gassmann was
principally admired - by such 18th-century musicians as Burney, Gerber and
Mozart - for his comic operas, which received performances in places as far
apart as Naples, Lisbon, Vienna and Copenhagen. Amore e Psiche,
which was first performed on 5 October 1767 to celebrate the
ill-fated marriage of Archduchess Maria Josepha to King Ferdinand of
Naples, reflects the influence of Gluck’s operatic ‘reforms’ of the early
1760s. ‘Bella in un vago viso’ - in which Zephyrus tries to reassure
Apollo, who is alarmed by the disappearance of the weeping bride-to-be
Psyche, with the dubious argument that women are prettier when they cry
than when they smile - has a full complement of woodwind, and Page made
much of the appealing interplay between voice and accompaniment.
Summerfield again crafted a warm, fluid line, but she seemed a little
hesitant at times and ‘pick-ups’ and tempi did not always feel settled and
Bass-baritone Ashley Riches joined Summerfield after the interval for
Mozart’s cantata, Grabmusik, which is reported to have been
composed when the young prodigy, suspected of putting his name to works
penned by his father, was shut away by the Prince of Salzburg with just
some manuscript paper for company and told to prove his compositional
prowess. The resulting work is believed to be this cantata, which was first
performed in Salzburg Cathedral on 7 April 1767. It takes the form of an
earnest dialogue between a departed Soul, which feels guilt for Christ’s
death, and an Angel who offers absolution. Riches’ recitative was anguished
and expressive; he handled the difficult coloratura with assurance,
snarling at the bitterness of death, and his first aria was as fiery as a
revenge aria - running through roulades, plummeting thunderously. The
flexibility of the line was fore-grounded by some lucid string playing.
Summerfield’s consolatory air - originally intended to be sung by a boy -
was characteristically eloquent, imbued with gravity. The pair blended well
in their duet, Riches accepting the Angel’s instruction with a gentleness
of tone which conveyed resigned content.
Riches’ solo aria was ‘Sopra quel capo indegno’ from J.C. Bach’s Carattaco, the fourth of the five operas that he wrote for London
and which was heard at the King’s Theatre shortly before Sifari.
In this aria Teomanzio rages against the perfidious Queen Cartismandua,
whose deceit has led to the Britons’ defeat at the hands of the Romans.
Riches, impressively ‘off score’, was grandoliquent without straying into
Haydn’s Stabat Mater was one of the first sacred works that he composed in
his new position as Kapellmeister of the Esterházy court; Riches and tenor
Stuart Jackson presented two of its movements. The orchestral drama of
‘Flammis orci ne succendar’ vividly conjured the flames of hell and
showcased Riches’ extensive registral range; ‘Vidit suum’, by contrast,
allowed us to enjoy the sweet softness of Jackson’s voice, his phrases
being poignantly echoed by the strings. In contrast, it was a dry tremolando that set the scene for the urgent recitative which
precedes Gluck’s ‘No, crudel; non posso vivere’, in which Admeto laments
the self-sacrifice Alceste has made in order to save his life. Jackson was
precise but his tone was somewhat unvarying, and at times the projection
In the two orchestral works presented the instrumental playing was robust
and dynamic, though occasionally rough-edged. Arne’s three-movement first
symphony was rhythmically lithe and energised by the strings’ impressive
bustling and swirling. After some insecure intonation at the start of the
opening Allegro, Mozart’s Symphony No.6 settled into a charming, colourful
Andante whose lyrical nature signaled its origins: it is an adaptation of a
duet from Mozart’s first opera Apollo and Hyacinthus (1766),
‘Natus cadit’, which Summerfield and Jackson performed with grace and
fluency to provide an unusually gentle close to the programme.
More substantial Mozart juvenilia will follow later this year. Classical
Opera will present two of Mozart’s works from 1767 at St John’s Smith
Square: a new production of Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots
in 2013, and a fully staged Apollo and Hyacinthus alongside a staging of the Grabmusik. In addition, the company
will return to the Wigmore Hall to perform Mozart’s first four keyboard
concertos - composed between April and June 1767 - with South African
fortepianist Kristina Bezuisdenhout. A new recording with Sophie Bevan, Perfido!, featuring concert arias by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven
will also be released in May.
Classical Opera: Ian Page - conductor, Gemma Summerfield - soprano, Stuart
Jackson - tenor, Ashley Riches - bass-baritone.
Mozart: Symphony No.6 in F major K43; Gassmann: ‘Bella in un vago viso’
(from Amore e Psiche); Gluck ‘No, crudel, non posso vivere’ (fromAlceste); J.C. Bach: ‘Sopra quell capo indegno’ (from Carattaco); Abel: ‘Frena le belle lagrime’ (from Sifari);
Mozart: Grabmusik K42; Haydn: No.6 Vidit suum, No.11 Flammis orci (from Stabat Mater HXXbis; Arne: Symphony No.1 in C major; Mozart:
‘Natus cadit atque Deus’ (from Apollo et Hyacinthus K38)
Wigmore Hall, London; Tuesday 17th January 2016.