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Elsewhere

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.


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Reviews

17 Mar 2019

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas. »

Recently in Reviews

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24 Apr 2005

BIZET: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Les Pêcheurs de Perles is not a terribly major opera. Ned Rorem once memorably described it as “harmless” concerning the occasion on which it shared a double bill with the world premiere of Poulenc’s Les Mammeles De Tiresias. But for a competent early work by a promising composer who went on to greater things (well, one greater thing, given his tragically early death), Pecheurs has been given an enormous amount of attention both on stage and in the recording studio. An attractive work of conventional Second Empire French oriental exotica, it’s blessed to contain two beloved numbers that have won the hearts of opera lovers whose loyalty keeps it before the public with some frequency. »

24 Apr 2005

Miliza Korjus sings Mozart, Donzetti, Delibes, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Gounod, ...

Miliza Korjus (1912-1980), the “Queen of Pyrotechnics”, sings with a crystalline precision, reminiscent of Joan Sutherland, and a purity of voice akin to Natalie Dessay. During the height of her operatic career, 1933-1936, Korjus had the flexibility, dynamic vocal range, and brightness to become the quintessential lyric coloratura. Hänssler Classic brings her voice back to life by remastering the very Electrola recordings that made her singing “immortal.” »

24 Apr 2005

“Fly, Thought, on Golden Wings” — Verdi’s Life told by Thomas Hampson

With a running time of 60 minutes, this DVD biographic feature on Verdi’s life might possibly be a satisfactory introductory piece for the newcomer to the great man and his art. Even then, the knowledge gained would barely form an outline to be filled in by much more study. However, if one would like a pretty travelogue of the sights and landscapes of Verdi’s Italian roots (with a side trip to Paris), plus a little time joining Thomas Hampson in admiring his own handsome self, Euroarts has a treat in store. »

24 Apr 2005

Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera at Boston University

Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart’s La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition. »

22 Apr 2005

GOUNOD: Polyeucte

In spite of the fact that Gounod had a special fondness for Polyeucte, it was among the least successful of his many operas. In fact, he was reported to have considered it as the favorite of his works. It was first composed around the time of the Franco-Prussian war. »

22 Apr 2005

WILLIAMS: Wagner and the Romantic Hero

There is no doubt that Richard Wagner as an artist, composer, and writer was the center of controversy both during and after his lifetime. Despite the overwhelming political, social, and psychological elements contained in his musical oeuvre, Wagner is one of the more enduring figures in the history of the arts. Based on lectures delivered at the Bayreuth Festival between 1998 and 2000, Simon Williams examines a topic that has generated much interest and scrutiny both within the arts and outside of it: Wagner’s treatment of the hero. »

22 Apr 2005

Joan La Barbara. Voice is the Original Instrument: Early Works (1974-1980)
Jacqueline Humbert. Chanteuse

You can rely on Lovely Music. The new-music label Lovely Music invariably provides some of the most interesting new music available on recordings. They can be relied upon in a business with its fair share of unreliables — immaturity, bad quality recording, sophistry — to give good quality interesting recordings of innovative work. They’ve been around for at least two decades, and their catalog covers some of the very best in what can be called “downtown” new music — conceptual music influenced in large part by John Cage, world music, and modern American art and dance after abstract expressionism (let’s say Warhol and after). Their rather humble website is at www.lovely.com, and really tells only a small part of their story. For someone exploring American new music for the first time, they make a very good starting point. »

21 Apr 2005

GLASS & MARSHALL: Les Enfants Terribles — Children of the Game

Well I’m trying. The liner notes read: “Les Enfants Terribles, the final installment of Philip Glass’ trilogy based on the work of Jean Cocteau, articulates Cocteau’s belief in the transcendent power of imagination and creativity. It is the story of a brother and a sister, Paul and Lise, two characters so caught up in a world of their own imaginings that they can no longer see a reality beyond their ‘game’.” The music on this cd is the accompaniment to a dance/opera (and thus it’s only half the story — to be as fair as possible to thing). The work is scored for three singers and a narrator, accompanied by three keyboards. »

21 Apr 2005

SAARIAHO: Cinq reflets de L'Amour de loin; Nymphea Reflection; Oltra Mar

This is very pleasant new music, long in breath, richly scored, nice poetry, nothing pretentious, but good solid rewarding composition. Ms. Saariaho is truly adept at making a great orchestral score, and she has a way with voices, particularly Pia Freund’s on the first track, which truly soars. »

20 Apr 2005

Berg's Lulu at ENO

Richard Jones’s English National Opera production of Berg’s Lulu was widely regarded as one of the company’s finest achievements when it premiered in 2002. The first night of its revival, however, was a somewhat awkward affair, in which illness regrettably played its part. Lisa Saffer (Lulu) and Susan Parry (Geschwitz) were singing with apologies, after suffering from throat infections. Fine actresses both, they compensated for vocal roughness with performances of uncommon dramatic vividness, though Saffer’s understandable tentativeness inevitably meant that we were faced with a Lulu whose physical glamour was unsupported by equivalent vocal allure. »

20 Apr 2005

Henze's The Bassarids in Paris Without Orchestra

No other city puts on a welcome quite like Paris. When the Olympic committee came to evaluate the city’s bid to host the games, they were greeted by strikes, and last week the Théâtre du Châtelet’s bid for artistic glory met with a similarly thumb-to-the-nose response. »

20 Apr 2005

Gounod's Faust at the Met — A Preview

Tomorrow night, the Metropolitan Opera unveils a new production of Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” its sixth. The musical expectations are high. James Levine, the Met’s music director, is conducting the opera for the first time, leading an international A-list cast: the French-Sicilian tenor Roberto Alagna as Faust, one of his signature roles; the Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski as Marguerite, the innocent he seduces and abandons; the German bass René Pape as Méphistophelès, an eagerly anticipated role debut; and the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the soldier Valentin, Marguerite’s brother. »

20 Apr 2005

Menotti's The Consul in Arizona

Even though no sensation-hungry opera director has tampered with Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul to “update” the work in today’s all-too-common effort to make opera “relevant” to modern audiences, this half-century-old opera has not lost one iota of such relevancy. »

19 Apr 2005

Sir Thomas Allen: Great Operatic Arias

Some 20 years ago I ended my subscription to Opera Magazine after an article by its editor, the late Harold Rosenthal. He had written a review of La Clemenza di Tito that described tenor Stuart Burrows in words that, for those who did not attend the performance, they had missed the second coming of Enrico Caruso, Jussi Björling and Beniamino Gigli in one person. I had attended and I knew that Rosenthal and his colleagues could be almost funny in their chauvinism but enough was enough. Well, I’m happy to report the old tradition still lives on. I looked at some reviews of this recital by British critics and Giuseppe De Luca, Tito Gobbi and Robert Merrill in their heydays would have been proud of such notices. »

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. »

18 Apr 2005

Muti in New York

Riccardo Muti, the Italian conductor, has been much in the news lately, having quit La Scala – that is an interesting story. But that is not today’s story: Mr. Muti was in New York last week, for a subscription series with the Philharmonic. On his program were two seldom-heard works, the first more seldom heard than the second: Goffredo Petrassi’s “Coro di morti” (“Chorus of Dead Ones”) and Liszt’s “Faust Symphony.” Saturday’s was a concert of the highest order. »

18 Apr 2005

Joseph Schwarz Sings Arias by Verdi, Wagner, Leoncavallo and Meyerbeer

For whom is this fine CD? It is published by Hänssler Verlag; a publishing house that specializes in Christian literature and that has a classical record branch as well. »

18 Apr 2005

Anna in Köln

KÖLN. Als Anna Netrebko ihre Stimme zum silbernen Mond hob wie Rusalka in der gleichnamigen Märchenoper Antonín Dvoráks, tönten die ersten Bravi der 8000 Gäste in der Großoper Kölnarena. Annas Aufstieg ist märchenhaft verlaufen; von Kälte, dem Problem der Nixe Rusalka, war in der gut geheizten und besuchten Halle keine Spur, und einen Prinzen musste sie nicht verführen, sie hat ihn einfach angerufen. José Cura, der gut aussehende und zudem stimmgewaltige Tenor aus Argentinien, war der Einladung gern gefolgt. »

17 Apr 2005

Nabucco at Opera Australia

Despite Nabucco’s rudimentary plot and underdevelopment of its subsidiary characters, its dignity is maintained through its music, which, although still primitive by Verdian standards, already shows signs of the greatness to come. »

17 Apr 2005

Michelle DeYoung in Chicago

Michelle DeYoung, to seriously understate the fact, looked radiant. The first of three performances as Sieglinde and Waltraute in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s hugely successful production of Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” was behind her, and the American mezzo-soprano seemed to be counting the minutes until she would be back on the Civic Opera House stage making passionate love to Placido Domingo, Siegmund to her Sieglinde in this production. Her cloud of long, crisply crinkled blond hair caught the light like an angel’s aureole as she settled into a conference room backstage at Lyric. She was revved up to talk about her transformation from a Colorado-reared, conservative Christian teenager whose chosen life goal was to marry and have lots of children into an opera singer in demand across the United States and Europe. »

17 Apr 2005

La Vie parisienne at Théâtre Silvia-Monfort

Fondé en 1985 par Olivier Desbordes, Opéra Eclaté Midi-Pyrénées est bien connu des amateurs d’art lyrique qui fréquentent, au mois d’août, le festival de Saint-Céré (Lot). Cette compagnie nationale de théâtre musical, fixée depuis 1996 à Tarbes (Hautes-Pyrénées), trouve toutefois sa raison d’être dans une décentralisation qui s’est traduite pendant vingt ans par plus de 900 représentations données en France et à l’étranger. »