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Elsewhere

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

Christina Scheppelmann appointed General Director of Seattle Opera

Scheppelmann heads to the Pacific Northwest following leadership roles in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

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.


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Reviews

24 Mar 2019

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci! »

Recently in Reviews

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01 Feb 2005

Vivaldi's Farnace at Resonanzen 2005

Dreizehn als Glückszahl: Das 13. Festival Alter Musik wird in die Annalen des Wiener Konzerthau ses als besonders geglückt eingehen. Das kenntnisreich zusammengestellte Programm deckte nahezu alle wesentlichen Epochen, Nationalstile und Klangmöglichkeiten Alter Musik ab; fast durchwegs gut gewählt waren die Interpreten, und der Almanach könnte so manches historische und musikgeschichtliche Handbuch ersetzen. »

01 Feb 2005

Doina Dimitriu Wows Chicago

The season’s first performance of Puccini’s “Tosca” at Lyric Opera on Monday night brought an authentic slice of operatic history to the Civic Opera House: The vintage production director Franco Zeffirelli mounted in 1964 for London’s Royal Opera to lure Maria Callas out of semi-retirement. Tito Gobbi, the great Scarpia of his generation, was her co-star. The well-worn staging has done honorable service for more than 40 years, having seen 38 revivals and 242 performances before it was finally retired in July. The classic production was promptly bought lock, stock and battlements by Lyric Opera, which is dedicating it to Gobbi’s memory. »

01 Feb 2005

La Traviata at Covent Garden

Verdi demanded three qualities for his “fallen woman”: looks, anima (soul) and a good stage presence. What he did not want was a glossy prima donna. The part broke convention not just histrionically, in its depiction of a contemporary prostitute, but also vocally. It needs a soprano agile enough to throw off the Act 1 coloratura, and strong enough to meet the dramatic requirements of Acts 2 and 3. That’s asking a lot, and most sopranos fall short. So it was fascinating, at the Royal Opera’s latest revival on Saturday, to come across Norah Amsellem. She has period looks, a pretty smile, a malleable physiognomy. She knows how to adapt her whole demeanour to Violetta’s changing situation, so that the figure we behold on stage is not an opera singer but a human being with the power to disarm us emotionally. That may be a gift of acting, but it also reflects Amsellem’s complete identification with the music. Her soprano is a bit one-dimensional, especially at the top, and she proved a surprisingly plain letter-reader. In all other set-pieces she had the theatre spellbound. “Dite alla giovine” and “Addio, del passato” were especially effective: Amsellem sang them in a beautifully controlled half-voice, stretching the tempo to its very limit. Some might call it self-indulgent; to me it sounded like the truth. »

31 Jan 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow. »

30 Jan 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera

Among the recent publications on opera, The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, edited by David Charlton, breaks new ground with its systematic and thorough exploration of grand opera, a specific part of the genre which played an important role in the musical culture of the nineteenth century. »

30 Jan 2005

A Batallar Estrellas — Music in Spanish Cathedrals of the Seventeenth Century

Interest in the music of “New Spain” (the Spanish colonies in the Americas) has blossomed in the last decade, with a number of fine recordings of sacred music composed by musicians who emigrated to the New World in support of the mission of the Catholic church. A parallel interest in the music of those who stayed in Spain – indeed, who set the tradition that was exported to the Americas – has been slower to build, so this recording is especially welcome, since it provides an opportunity to hear a tradition seldom performed outside of Spain, whether in the Baroque era or in the present. »

30 Jan 2005

WAGNER: Die Feen

How narrow-minded can one be ? Very much so in the case of Richard Wagner who succeeded in not mentioning once the name of Verdi in all his writings. And is not his decision to banish his early youth works from the Bayreuth-barn rooted in that same mentality ? Of course during his lifetime he was the subject of many attacks and maybe he feared to be the victim of ridicule with critics dissecting every bar of Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi and looking for influences of other composers. Rienzi and Liebesverbot had been staged while he lived but Die Feen was only known by a few selections and he never took pains to have his first opera performed at a time when he could easily have done it. Die Feen was premiered 5 years after his death and then led a rather undistinguished life of a few performances. Still the amount of bigotry of his successors is even greater, considering that Siegfried Wagner himself was a composer of fairy tales and should not have respected his father’s wish not to perform Die Feen. The grandchildren complied as well though one can understand their motives. As Wagner lost some of his hallowed reputation during the fifties and the sixties, the stock of Verdi rose very high indeed and maybe it was not in the Wagners’ interest to show the more amateurish trials of granddaddy. Eva Wagner, Wolfgang’s estranged daughter who should have succeeded him long ago, was the first to offer a business plan for a new New Bayreuth where Die Feen, Rienzi and even the operas of composers who influenced the maestro would have their place. And then music lovers could at last hear and see what the fuss is all about if there is something to be excited about. Well, there is. The overture is a gem, all of its 11 minutes and almost worth the purchase of the set. Yes, it’s easy to trace the influence of Mozart and especially Weber but 20-year Wagner had a voice of his own as well, different from that of his contemporaries. Wagner was twelve years younger than Lortzing who could easily have treated the same fairy subject but one immediately hears the far richer orchestration, the ease Wagner has in composing more complicated arias and ensembles. And one regrets somewhat that the mature Wagner gave his best tunes to the orchestra instead of sticking with the singers like the youthful composer still did in the old tradition. »

29 Jan 2005

Barbiere in Madrid

Rénové en 1997 avec un luxe inouï, le Teatro Real de Madrid ne lésine pas non plus sur la qualité des productions. Du rare Osud de Janacek en 2003, marqué par la qualité de la mise en scène de Bob Wilson, de l’orchestre et de la distribution vocale, ne reste que des souvenirs et des photographies, faute de producteurs intéressés par la réalisation d’un DVD. Ce ne sera pas le cas de ce nouveau Barbier de Séville, dévoilé il y a quelques jours, diffusé par Arte dans une semaine, et bientôt dans les bacs. En filmant trois représentations successives, l’ambition est d’offrir le meilleur Barbier en DVD du marché. »

28 Jan 2005

Don Giovanni in Baltimore

The elegantly regilded Hippodrome Theatre could be mistaken for an old-world opera house. On Wednesday night, for three hours at least, that’s exactly what it was. Teatro Lirico D’Europa — administratively based in Hunt Valley — presented a fully staged production of Don Giovanni that offered sufficient entertainment value and demonstrated the theater’s flexibility. »

28 Jan 2005

Poppea at Palais Garnier

Parisians do not like camp. David McVicar’s production of Monteverdi’s last opera was jeered in October at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and now David Alden has met the same fate. This is unfair because his use of radical kitsch is altogether more sophisticated and his manipulation of the singers faultlessly choreographed. In any case, this classic staging dates from 1997, when it was first seen in Cardiff and Munich. McVicar’s approach now looks like a pale copy of an industry template. »

27 Jan 2005

Singing Ives

In 2004, festivals and concerts commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Charles Ives, an insurance executive from Danbury and arguably America’s greatest native-born composer. Tonight and Sunday at Wesleyan University’s Crowell Recital Hall, the tribute will continue with the first of several recitals surveying Ives’ 129 songs. »

27 Jan 2005

Siegfried's Id

Richard Wagner loathed the first performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he scrabbled together at his own theatre in 1876. “Next year we’ll do everything differently,” was the mildest comment he had to offer, and the most convenient for directors eager to distinguish their Ring productions from all others. »

27 Jan 2005

The Tsar's Bride in Moscow

Following its disastrous staging last April of Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” I had high hopes that Novaya Opera would get itself back on track by turning to a classic of Russian opera for its next production. But, at its debut last Sunday, the theater’s new version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Tsar’s Bride” proved, if not a disaster, at least a major disappointment, due mainly to the muddled stage direction of Yury Grymov and the theater’s decision to discard as much as a third of the opera’s music. »

27 Jan 2005

Agony and Ecstasy in LA

Nearly a century separates the two beguilements installed at the Music Center in recent weeks: Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida of the 1870s and Luciano Berio’s Laborintus II of 1965. Nobody would mistake the style or purpose of the one for the other; they are both shrewdly welded to the taste of their respective times. Something grander links them – an innately Italian sense of theater that unites all the arts of the region into a single onrush of word, music and movement. To the north, Richard Wagner made a great fuss as he dreamed up his “total artwork” concept with ream upon ream of explanatory philosophy. To the Italian spirit, that unity of the expressive arts was simply a form of breathing. Petrarch, Monteverdi, Tintoretto, Berio . . . just the names by themselves take on a theatrical dimension. »

25 Jan 2005

SCHUBERT: Alfonso und Estrella

New artists are taking greater chances with repertory, looking for niches to call their own. Dawn Upshaw explores new music, Cecilia Bartoli eighteenth-century Italian song, and in this live recording up-and-coming artists Eva Mei and Rainer Trost take on the lead roles in Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella. Mei and Trost’s sympathetic singing with the orchestra and chorus of the Teatro lirico di Cagliari conducted by Gérard Korsten breathes life into this choppy opera, which Liszt famously condemned as a work of only historical interest. »

25 Jan 2005

Kát’a Kabanová at Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Ihre Ruh’ ist hin, ihr Herz ist schwer. Die junge Frau im gelben Sommerkleid duckt sich in ihrem Stuhl, drückt die Hände in den Schoß, blickt nach oben. Diesmal ist es nicht Goethes Gretchen, das hier – um im jüngsten Grass-Jargon zu bleiben – “verthalheimert”, sprich: auf ihr sprachliches und inhaltliches Gerüst skelettiert wurde. Es ist die Kaufmannsgattin Katja Kabanova, die ihre einzige Sehnsucht, die Liebe zum schwächlichen Boris, mit dem Leben bezahlt und in die Wolga geht. So steht es in Alexander Ostrowskis Theaterstück “Das Gewitter” von 1859 geschrieben. Welches Michael Thalheimer, der kühlkopfige Minimalist unter den tonangebenden Theaterregisseuren, sicherlich auf das Wesentliche zurechtzustutzen vermocht hätte. Ohne russische Folklorismen und Nebenhandlungen, nackt, statisch, als pure Versuchsanordnung. »