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Elsewhere

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

Mark Padmore reflects on Britten's Death in Venice

“At the start, one knows ‘bits’ of it,” says tenor Mark Padmore, somewhat wryly, when I meet him at the Stage Door of the Royal Opera House where the tenor has just begun rehearsals for David McVicar’s new production of Death in Venice, which in November will return Britten’s opera to the ROH stage for the first time since 1992.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

Annilese Miskimmon appointed as English National Opera’s Artistic Director

English National Opera has appointed Annilese Miskimmon as Artistic Director.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.


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Reviews

21 Oct 2019

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.  »

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07 Apr 2005

Der Ring in Chicago

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country’s most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music – even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home. »

07 Apr 2005

Un ballo in maschera at the Met

Humor is not a quality normally associated with Verdi. He was a dour fellow, dubbed “the bear of Busetto” by his long-suffering wife. His first comic opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was a crashing failure, and “Falstaff,” his final work for the stage, looks more intently into the abyss than most commentators care to admit. »

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. »

06 Apr 2005

More On Fanciulla

While ruminating about “Madama Butterfly” in these pages the other week, I mentioned that the de facto premiere of the work was not in Italy at all but rather New York, since the David Belasco play originally opened on Herald Square. In the case of “Girl of the Golden West,” both the Belasco theatrical piece and the Puccini opera were launched in Manhattan, the latter under Toscanini in 1910. »

06 Apr 2005

ENO Closes the Ring

Four years after the initial concert performances, English National Opera’s Ring cycle has reached its Wagnerian summit. It is not a triumph of the kind that the young company enjoyed with its first-ever cycle in the 1970s, but at least the staging is complete, with cast and production team intact, as planned. Other, more prestigious companies have achieved less. »

06 Apr 2005

Il Trovatore in Toronto

Just how good is the Canadian Opera Company’s current Hummingbird production of Il Trovatore? Good enough, that we wouldn’t be all too surprised to find opera buffs donning hard hats and workboots to pitch in down at the corner of Queen and University, just to ensure that this world class company finally has a home that is worthy of it. »

06 Apr 2005

Hasse's Cleofide in Dresden

Es gab was zu feiern am Ostersonnabend in der Semperoper, und das Publikum feierte gern mit: 274 Jahre nach der Uraufführung stand erstmals wieder „Cleofide“ im Rampenlicht. Die wieder entdeckte Oper des früheren Dresdner Hofkapellmeisters Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) hatte einst den Ruf Dresdens als Opernmetropole begründet. Klar, dass sich die Staatskapelle besonders ins Zeug legte, um dem barocken Kleinod wieder Leben einzuhauchen. »

05 Apr 2005

Anna Takes Vienna

Donizettis “Liebestrank” ist sonst eine gern gepflegte Repertoire-Bank. Diesmal war jedoch alles anders. Gleißendes Scheinwerferlicht schon beim Betreten der Oper: Der ORF war angetreten, um das Ereignis für die Nachwelt zu bannen. Solches passiert eher selten im Repertoire-Alltag. Selten passiert es aber auch, dass der Besucher eine derart adrett aufpolierte und klingend besetzte Staatsopernaufführung einfach unterm Jahr serviert bekommt. Sogar Außenministerin und Star-Tenor lauschten in der Loge. Der Grund? Anna Netrebko, der schöne, junge russische Sopranliebling, war als Jungbäuerin Adina angesetzt. »

05 Apr 2005

Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini’s operatic tale of the wild West, “La Fanciulla del West,” is too melodramatic to be fully credible – a reason it hasn’t joined his “Tosca,” “La Bohème” and “Turandot” in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it’s true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes “ugh!” »

05 Apr 2005

MOZART: Idomeneo

In 1934, John Christie launched an institution of English musical life with Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert: The Glyndebourne Festival. Since 1951, the Festival has staged four productions of Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo (1781), the most recent being in 2003. »

04 Apr 2005

BALAKAUSKAS: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis

Of the three Baltic States, both Latvia and Estonia are better known for choral music than Lithuania. Yet, Osvaldas Balakauskas, born in 1937, could be one of the finest lesser known modernist composers of the 20th century. Resisting both the neoclassical Soviet aesthetic of Prokofiev and a trendy nationalist folk identity, Balakauskas embraced the avant garde developments of Western Europe. Composing from dodecaphonic tonal modes and complex rhythmic constructs, he can most accurately be compared to Olivier Messiaen. »

04 Apr 2005

Albert Herring/Eugene Onegin/Genoveva in Boston

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten’s Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma’s boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all. »

04 Apr 2005

Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian folk songs

This new release from Hänssler Classics presents an anthology of live and studio performances by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), undoubtedly one of the greatest singers in recorded history. The title of the album, “Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian Folk Songs,” is somewhat misleading. Apart from traditional songs such as “Mashenka,” “Eh, Van’ka,” and “Down the Volga,” the recording includes arrangements of 19th-century popular songs such as “Dubinushka,” “Down the Peterskaya,” and the perennial Gypsy favorite “Black Eyes,” as well as a selection of salon romances, art songs, and ballads by Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomïzhsky, Anton Rubinstein, and Modest Musorgsky, among others. Most of the selections on the new CD have been previously released on various labels, with the possible exception of “Dubinushka,” which I have not been able to find among the recordings currently available. Hence, avid Chaliapin collectors should be aware that the Hänssler release offers little if anything new to them. Those music lovers still unacquainted with Chaliapin’s art, however, or those whose exposure to this singer has been limited to his opera recordings, would find this album a great insight into a spectacular voice and a unique artistic persona. »

03 Apr 2005

Caballe: Beyond Music

Monserratt Caballé’s journey to La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera was truly a road of talent, dedication, and will. One of the most beautiful and athletic voices of our generation, declared as Callas’ successor, Caballé dominated both the dramatic spinto and bel canto arenas, transcending the realm of the opera world to influence the popular masses. »

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). »

02 Apr 2005

Verdi Gala

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of “opera’s greatest hits” with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises. »

02 Apr 2005

Runnicles at Carnegie Hall

Donald Runnicles, the longtime music director of the San Francisco Opera, has been earning excellent reviews for his conducting of Strauss’s “Rosenkavalier” at the Metropolitan Opera, a run that ends with a matinee performance today. But New Yorkers also know of him as the principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Wearing that hat he appeared at Carnegie Hall for a program on Thursday night titled, rather too cutely, “Postcard From Prague.” »

01 Apr 2005

Eugene Onegin in Boston

Most operas are about love, but Tchaikovsky’s ‘’Eugene Onegin” is a special case because the composer took the subject so personally. Tchaikovsky’s own life was tracing the plot of Pushkin’s verse novel, with catastrophic consequences, and the music is full of yearning, passion, pain, and regret. »

01 Apr 2005

Genoveva in Boston

Three of the greatest composers of art songs — Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf — also harbored operatic ambitions. All of them wrote operas and set great store by them, but none has ever gained a foothold in the repertory. »

01 Apr 2005

Don Giovanni at the Met

Bleak but uproarious, bawdy but singed with hellfire, Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” is just as elusive as its title character. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard identified Don Giovanni with music and desire: “a force, a wind, impatience, passion,” forever ungraspable. »

01 Apr 2005

Rosenthal's Children at the Bolshoi

New operas by Russian and Soviet composers once played a prominent part in the repertoire of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater. But nearly 26 years have passed since the theater last produced an operatic world premiere. On Wednesday, the long drought finally ended with the staging of “Rosenthal’s Children,” a work fresh from the pens of St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov and writer Vladimir Sorokin. »

01 Apr 2005

With the Face of a Tyrant Before Their Eyes

LA SCALA this past week has been like the Kremlin during the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev. For days on end, no-one knew who was in charge or what was going on. The only certainty was that the world would never be the same again. »

01 Apr 2005

Cuba libre in Erfurt

Es wird nicht mehr lange dauern bis zur Forderung, Filmleute generell von Opernbühnen fernzuhalten. Nicht nur wegen der jüngsten Fehlschläge an großen Häusern, bei denen Filmregisseure und Kinoproduzenten mit Neuinszenierungen dilettierten – sogar in der sich charmant bemühenden Stadttheaterprovinz grassiert nun offenbar das cineastische Virus. »

31 Mar 2005

BRAHMS: Lieder, Complete Edition, Vol. 8

This latest release in the collaborative project to record the complete songs of Johannes Brahms focuses on four opus numbers, among the last groups of Lieder to be so designated by Brahms. The present recording represents typical songs from the so-called mature composer, most of these having been written between 1883-88. Each of the opus numbers includes a mix of texts drawn from the works of contemporary, well known poets and from the milieu of popular folk-songs. As an example of this mix, the songs from op. 97 comprise settings of poems by Reinhold, Alexis, and Groth, as well as two songs for which the source is simply given as Volkslied. As in most of the previous releases of this project, the singers Juliane Banse and Andreas Schmidt divide the repertoire and are accompanied by the pianist Helmut Deutsch. »

31 Mar 2005

The Ring of the Nibelung in Chicago

Valhalla proved to be a failed paradise for Wotan and his band of doomed gods and goddesses in Wagner’s epic set of four related operas, “The Ring of the Nibelung.’’ But Lyric Opera of Chicago audiences are experiencing the real thing this week as the company opens the first of three weeklong revivals of its production of the “Ring’’ unveiled in the 1990s. »