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Elsewhere

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Books

Paul Rodmell: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918
07 Feb 2014

Book Review: Opera in the British Isles, 1875 – 1918

Opera in the British Isles might seem a rather sparse subject in the period 1875 to 1918. Notoriously described as the land without music, even the revival of the native tradition of composers did not include a strong vein of opera. »

Recently in Books

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31 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Elgar

Perhaps some Opera Today readers may wonder why a book on Sir Edward Elgar merits reviewing on this particular site. The composer never came near to completing an opera. In fact, only toward the end of his career did he... »

23 Aug 2005

THOMAS: Polish Music since Szymanowski

Throughout the history of Poland, music has been an enduring force in its culture, and Polish composers were at the forefront of a number of developments in the twentieth century. »

07 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy. »

16 Jul 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn

The Cambridge companion series provides one of the more scholarly and intensely interesting examinations of musical composers currently available. This is because of its in-depth and multifaceted contributions to each volume, by a variety of musicologists and musicians, as well as overall management of each volume by a well-established and known scholar in the field. The Mendelssohn volume is no exception in this area. It is a collection of fourteen essays that examine the life and work of the nineteenth-century Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. It is divided into four major sections: Issues in Biography, Situating the Compositions, Profiles of the Music, and Reception and Performance. »

15 Jul 2005

HELLER: Emblems of Eloquence — Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice

In her awesome Emblems of Eloquence, Wendy Heller tirelessly investigates treatises, myths, libretti and letters to illuminate the natures of “real” and “imagined” women who reigned over seventeenth-century opera as subjects of musical portraiture. From Dido to Semiramide, Poppea to Calisto, Heller argues that women and women’s issues dominated the Venetian stage. Librettists struggled with issues of women’s sexuality, dominance, suppression of desire, overt desire, covert desire, homoeroticism and misogyny. And all at the time when, “Venice’s absolute exclusion of women in public life was written into the organization of the Republic.” This apparent contradiction is at the heart of her eminently readable text that displays Heller as a musicological Simon Schama. »

09 Jul 2005

FELSENFELD: Benjamin Britten and Samuel Barber: Their Lives and Their Music

The second in a series called Parallel Lives, this book consists of a series of essays by one author. The same Daniel Felsenfeld also authored the first in the series, which set Charles Ives and Aaron Copland side by side. By comparison to that juxtaposition only, Britten and Barber make an intriguing and appropriate pair for analysis. Felsenfeld's book, however, is slim yet repetitive, and far from stylishly written. The inclusion of a CD of selections from Naxos recordings of both composers may, however, make the volume of interest to some readers. »

06 Jul 2005

HURWITZ: Getting the Most Out of Mozart: The Vocal Works

The investment of money, not to mention time, to listen carefully to a complete opera can be intimidating for some uninitiated listeners. After all, operas can be quite long and — with all that strange singing in a foreign language — could be incomprehensible, and therefore less than enjoyable. Opera still carries the cachet in our culture of being the pastime of the wealthy, the educated, and the elite. References to opera in popular culture, such as ads or music videos, signify a different world of privilege and exclusion. »

04 Jul 2005

THOMAS: Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime, 1647-1785

Contrary to what one might expect from its title, Downing A. Thomas' book on Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime is not a comprehensive historical treatment of the subject. Instead, the chapters — which seem to have been drawn from separate articles or other studies — cover a wide range of topics, but are successfully drawn together through a view of aesthetics from a pre-nineteenth-century vantage point; according to Thomas, discussions of aesthetics from the time of the ancien régime "rose out of the many developments in medicine and philosophy ... in relation to questions of sensibility, sympathy, and taste" (p. 323). Cultural and aesthetic issues of the day centered on "the experience of passion, of intersubjective feeling, and of pleasure" (p. 323). Thomas' work rests on extensive studies of philosophical and theoretical writings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it also shows a broad knowledge of present-day analytical approaches and musical and cultural studies. Thomas uses this broad range of sources to argue for the importance of opera as an influence on — and a reflection of — French culture and thought during the ancien régime. The author identifies two basic assumptions that lie behind the varied studies in the book: "First, ... individual operas not only display traces of the aesthetic and ideological circumstances of their creation, but ... they also engage productively in those circumstances. Second, ... opera came to serve as a touchstone in the eighteenth century for understanding the mechanisms behind human feeling and for reflecting upon how emotion impacts social relations." »

11 Jun 2005

MORRIS: Reading Opera Between the Lines: Orchestral Interludes and Cultural Meaning from Wagner to Berg

Interludes in opera articulate moments when the lush voices of singers and vivid spectacle of scenery and action are removed and often the curtain is drawn, and thus they span a functional gap between textless instrumental music and explicit theatrical vehicle. Although composers and analysts suggest rich and multivalent meanings for the music, those implications often escape decoding by audiences. Even the interlude titles — Zwischenspiel, entr'acte, intermezzo — suggest their intermission-like nature. As functional placeholders for scene changes and the like, the interludes are for many a cue to relax attentive listening, read synopses, and whisper with companions. Undaunted by such complexities, Morris takes up the problematic nature of operatic interludes, engaging their ambiguities with eyes wide open in an effort to enrich our understanding of these challenging bits of music. »

21 May 2005

GOEHRING: Three modes of perception in Mozart — the philosophical, pastoral, and comic in Così fan tutte

According to the book jacket, this is the first major scholarly study of Così fan tutte, considered to be one of Mozart's least-understood operas and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte's most interesting text.  »

20 May 2005

TRIBO: Annals 1847-1897 del Gran Teatre del Liceu

The importance of the Teatre del Liceu, can not be overstated. The house ranks with all the leading theatres of the world, being right up there with Paris, London, New York, Vienna, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Lisbon, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Turin, Naples, Buenos Aires, and other cities of comparable importance. During its long history (158 years at the time of writing) it featured many of the great singers. These include Caruso, Battistini, Tamagno, Ruffo, Caballe, Tebaldi, Mario, Pavarotti, Vignas, Lazaro, O'Sullivan, Stracciari, Pagliughi, Gayarre, Masini, Stagno, Lauri-Volpi, Bellincioni, and countless others. Quite a few of these who sang there before 1897 are represented on the accompanying disc. »

20 May 2005

MAY: Decoding Wagner — An Invitation to His World of Music Drama

Thomas May's stated goal in Decoding Wagner is indeed summarized in his subtitle, An Invitation to His Music Dramas. Mr. May offers an introduction to those who may seek a reliable yet succinct guide in their first Wagnerian experience; a further potential readership is seen among those who have attended performances of Wagner but who wish to expand their appreciation of the music dramas. In his chronological overview of Wagner's oeuvre from the mid-1830s until the close of his career May presents an approachable guide to appreciating the composer's operatic genius. As an illustration of May's commentary on the works, a generous selection of Wagner's music is included on two Discs that accompany the volume in a protective sleeve. »

19 Apr 2005

The Cambridge Companion to the Lied

Books described as a "Companion" to this or that and published by university presses should be required to come with a Reader Beware label. As is the case with many books put out by university and many for-profit publishers, the main reason for publishing these is to advance the tenure and promotion prospects of the authors. This is not a bad thing, except that all too often the books aren't very good. »

15 Apr 2005

DUNSBY: Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song

In Making Words Sing, Jonathan Dunsby investigates what he calls the "vocality" of song, that is, the "quality of having voice," as the author states in the introduction to his study. By using this perspective, Dunsby focuses on the intensification of the text that occurs when words are set to music, which stands in opposition to the kind of "songfulness" that Lawrence Kramer discussed in Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002). »

13 Apr 2005

RANDALL & DAVIS: Puccini & the Girl

"Puccini & the Girl" is a rare and engrossing work of scholarship that can be enjoyed on several levels. For the Puccini-lover, to say nothing of one who has a special interest in La Fanciulla del West, it will provide a wealth of information not previously available, particularly all in one place. Any one interested in the creative process will find it exposed and examined clearly. The scholar will recognize the fascinating chance discovery, the thrill of the chase and the deep rewards of work undertaken lovingly and with rigorous care by the dedicated and passionate co-authors. »

06 Apr 2005

HANSEN: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

Jack Winsor Hansen's 520-page biography of Sibyl Sanderson (1865 - 1903) is packed with romanticism and gossip that will delight and titillate true worshipers of operatic divas and inquisitive opera fans. It also fills a gap in the music-historical writings about opera at the end of the 19th century. »

02 Apr 2005

The Cambridge Companion to John Cage

Cage's music is like Einstein's theorem: most people know it exists, know it's important, but beyond these facts know nothing about it (count me in this category when it comes to Einstein). »

28 Mar 2005

WEAVER & PUCCINI: The Puccini Companion

If any opera lover feels daunted by the many biographies and analytical tomes dedicated to the life and art of Giacomo Puccini, Norton has done that reader a tremendous favor with the publication of The Puccini Companion. Tightly organized, this series of essays details the life, discusses the operas, and provides a wealth of supplementary information about the composer. »

07 Mar 2005

EVERETT: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide

Much current popular culture assumes that its audience is knowledgeable of the American musical. References to, and parodies of, specific musicals are frequently a part of episodes of The Simpsons and South Park, and ads for companies as diverse as The Gap and the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion recently have restaged numbers from West Side Story to plug their products or events. Rarely, if ever, are the sources acknowledged; it is simply taken for granted that a general audience will understand the quotations and parodies. »

02 Mar 2005

TOMMASINI: The New York Times Essential Library: Opera — A Critic’s Guide to the 100 Most Important Works and the Best Recordings

"I particularly want to reach newcomers" writes Anthony Tommasini, Times chief classical music critic, in his preface. I do not think they will be helped very much by this book. A rookie who picks it up and reads the subtitle may expect something more than two operas by Bellini, two by Donizetti, one Gounod (not Faust), one Massenet (not Manon) and no Lohengrin. »