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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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16 Apr 2005

García's L'isola disabitata at Wake Forest University

The second of two performances of Manuel García’s L’isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) in WFU’s Brendle Recital Hall on April 8 was a happy marriage of musicological scholarship and practical vocal pedagogy. I am familiar with Teresa Radomski’s work as an opera and oratorio soloist; the focus of her scholarship – the careful transcription of manuscripts and the creation of a performing edition of a salon opera by García – was fascinating. Her splendid program notes place the work in its historical context and recount aspects of her research. She transcribed the score from a complex original manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris) while on research leave. With her brother, musicologist James Radomski, she completed a critical edition of the opera which is being published by A-R Editions, Inc. »

15 Apr 2005

Lotte Lehmann: “Frauenliebe und Leben” — Works by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Sacred Songs

Of all the singing geniuses of the 20th century, Lotte Lehmann is among the forefront. Though not blessed with the most beautiful voice or impressive technique, Lehmann knew how to reach her audience through unmatched musical interpretation and expression. She was able to win the love of her audience, and now, almost a century from the start of her career, the world continues to sing her praises. »

15 Apr 2005

Ariodante in Vienna

Am 8. Jänner 1734 wurde erstmals eine Oper von Georg Friedrich Händel am Royal Opera House in Covent Garden gespielt. “Ariodante” hieß sie – und wurde ein voller Publikumserfolg. Bald darauf fiel das Werk in einen 200-jährigen Dornröschenschlaf. Erst ab 1927 erlebte es eine Renaissance, wurde in Stuttgart gespielt, an der Berliner Staatsoper, beim Salzburger Pfingstfestival. In Wien war die opera seria, die auf demselben Stoff beruht wie Shakespeares “Viel Lärm um nichts” (auf “Orlando furioso” von Ariosto), noch nie zu sehen. »

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). »

15 Apr 2005

English Choral Music

One has to wonder if the number of recordings of English choirs singing English choral music will ever reach a saturation point. This Naxos double disc by the Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge, may very well signify such a moment through its attempt to chronicle the succession of English choral music from the 19th century to the present. The choir of men and boys sings gloriously, nearly equaling their more famous sister choir at King’s College, yet the musical montage is rather unusual. »

14 Apr 2005

Tristan at Paris

PARIS, April 13 – Huge, dense, taxing, with almost all the action taking place in the heart, Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is notoriously difficult to stage. Indeed, the composer himself abandoned his first attempt in Vienna in the early 1860’s after no fewer than 77 rehearsals. Now, in a daring experiment, the Paris National Opera has invited the American video artist Bill Viola to accompany the work with his own visual commentary. »

14 Apr 2005

Masked Ball at Covent Garden

The aesthetics of this new staging have been determined by a co-production deal with Madrid and Houston, rather than by any wish to explore Verdi in a modern context. Like La forza del destino earlier this season, it is an old-fashioned singers’ show – safe, bankable, peppered with big-house spectacle but oblivious to the characters’ psychology and Verdi’s elegantly crafted dramatic situations. The onus for making those situations come alive once again falls on Antonio Pappano. »

13 Apr 2005

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

After playing a few tracks I was reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s review of a 1973 Callas and Di Stefano-concert in his own Opera Magazine: “This is one of the saddest reviews I ever had to write.” »

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. »

13 Apr 2005

HANDEL: Athalia

I have long been accustomed to the grumblings of my German and Italian colleagues concerning the pronunciation and expression of musical works in their native languages by English-native singers and choirs. I had chalked it up to benevolent xenophobia, but this beautiful recording gives me new insight into their perspective. »

11 Apr 2005

Faust at Linz

Kam da doch glatt ein Franzose (ausgerechnet!) und stellte 1859 nonchalant das deutsche Literatur-Nationalheiligtum vom Kopf auf die Füße! Sprich: Ignorierte Goethes Motto “Wer vieles bringt, wird manchem etwas bringen” und nahm des Dichterfürsten Ideendrama als Text-Steinbruch einer amour fou. Bei den deutschen Kritikern fiel das Stück durch, das Publikum hingegen war begeistert, bekam es doch genau das zu sehen, wonach es in einer Oper dürstet. »

11 Apr 2005

Pearl Fishers at NYCO

The new “Pearl Fishers” that arrived at New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon came from the San Diego Opera, but it looks as if it came from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Maybe it was the fluorescent hues; or the attempt to create local color with tinselly choreography; or the stylized patterns painted on the stage, like sun on sand, and the women’s bikinis, which evoked the flavor of a recent addition to the Games, beach volleyball. »

11 Apr 2005

Olga Borodina in New York

My last encounter with Olga Borodina as a songstress was a particularly memorable one, and I daresay it was for her as well. In May 2001 she postponed a Carnegie Hall recital literally at the last minute, a hastily scrawled piece of paper taped over the poster out front our only greeting. Ms. Borodina was suffering from allergies and gamely attempted to forge ahead a week later with James Levine at the piano. The afternoon was challenging, but the half-empty hall was populated by a dedicated group that admired her courage. »

11 Apr 2005

More on Mignon at OONY

Once upon a time, Freedom Fries didn’t exist, no one made apologies for charm and grace, and operas like Ambroise Thomas’ “Mignon” (1866, revised 1870) ruled the boards. As it happens, April 2005 is a throwback to those innocent days of musical Francophilia in New York. The Philharmonic just performed “Damnation of Faust” by Berlioz; a new staging of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” opened yesterday at New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera presents Gounod’s once-ubiquitous “Faust” with a promising cast later this month. »

11 Apr 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise

When it comes to any new recordings of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, it is difficult not to think of the fine performances by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at various points in his career. While Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings can serve as points of reference, the recent CD by the baritone Andreas Schmidt adds to the many excellent recordings that already exist for this work. Schmidt brings to this cycle a personal and effective interpretation that emerges clearly in the recording, where the close ensemble with Rudolf Jansen results in a nuanced performance. By allowing themselves fluid tempos, the performers allow the text to serve the music well. At times they linger over a syllable or stretch a phrase to reinforce the meaning. These are subtle differences that are at the core of experienced and effective Lieder performance. »

10 Apr 2005

Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims at the Mariinsky

Rossini’s long-lost, magnificent “party piece,” originally created for an army of bel canto singers, “Il Viaggio a Reims,” is being revived at the Mariinsky Theater, where it premieres on Wednesday with a further performance on April 16. The French actor and director Alain Maratrat is responsible for the staging, while his compatriot Pierre Alain Bertola created the sets. With their show, the French team promises an explosive fusion of Rossini’s subtle comedy and raving Russian madness. »

10 Apr 2005

The Crucible in Boston

Sex, religion and real estate: Put ‘em together, and you’ve got a plot that will bring out the best and the worst in any cast of characters. »

09 Apr 2005

Madama Butterfly at Volksoper Wien

Sieben von zwölf seiner Bühnenwerke sind nach einer Frau benannt. Puccini selbst wird der Satz nachgesagt: “Wenn ich nicht mehr verliebt bin, begrabt mich!” Was lag daher für Regisseur Stefan Herheim näher, als sich der “Madama Butterfly” aus dieser Perspektive zu nähern, die Bühne zeitweise zu einem Puccini-Museum zu machen. Mit stummen Auftritten von Tosca, Mimi und Manon Lescaut, aber auch dem Komponisten selbst. Ungewohnt auch Butterflys Ende: Sie muss in einem blutrünstigen Harakiri ihr Leben lassen. »

09 Apr 2005

Die Tote Stadt in Amsterdam

Die Tote Stadt is often described as Erich Korngold’s masterpiece. An enormous success when first performed simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne in 1920, it has become one of those pieces every opera fan has heard of, yet few have seen: it has never been staged in Britain. That makes the new production from Netherlands Opera a real collector’s item. Musically and dramatically, it does the work proud. What it can’t do, though, is turn a deeply flawed piece into a good one. »

09 Apr 2005

La finta giardiniera in Cleveland

The CIM Opera Theater is offering two revelations this week, one old and one new. What a joy to experience Mozart’s neglected “La finta giardiniera,” which the precocious fellow wrote at the age of 18. The more recent discovery is soprano Jung Eun Oh, who was a sensation in the title role at Wednesday’s opening. »

09 Apr 2005

Tancredi in Toronto

There is one conspicuous reason for reviving Rossini’s Tancredi in our time. Fortunately that reason — the availability of the Polish contralto Ewa Podles — underlay the Canadian Opera Company’s production of that work which opened Friday night for six performances at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto. »

08 Apr 2005

Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina in Frankfurt

Alcoholism, depression and loneliness were a few of the things that killed Modest Mussorgsky in 1881. He was 42 years old. He left behind the unfinished piano score of Khovanshchina, a vast historical opera that was, among other things, a criticism of Tsar Peter I. »

08 Apr 2005

Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon at OONY

Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night’s opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas’s second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages. »