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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.  »

Recently in Reviews

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12 Feb 2005

Deborah Polaski in Vienna

Groß war das Interesse für Deborah Polaskis erste Wiener Isolde. Und rasch machte sie klar, wie sie diese Rolle versteht: als kraftvoll gesteigerte Euphorie. Da hatte sie in Peter Schneider am Pult des gut disponierten, mit fabelhaften Soli bei Streichern und Bläsern aufwartenden Staatsopernorchesters einen gleich gestimmten Partner. Denn auch er setzte auf kräftige Farben, heizte die Dynamik und die Emotion der Sänger an, ohne dabei auf die lyrischen Stellen der Partitur zu vergessen, auch wenn man diese schon feinnerviger modelliert in Erinnerung hat. Dennoch, zu einem spannenden Ganzen wollten sich die einzelnen, noch so intensiv musizierten Mosaiksteine nur schwer fügen. »

11 Feb 2005

LULLY: Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus

Born in Florence, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) came to France in 1646 as an Italian tutor to Louis XIV’s cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orléans. Thanks to her, Lully became acquainted with French music, and got to study with several eminent musicians in Paris. In early 1653, he was asked to play several roles in the spectacular Royal Ballet of the Night. His performances caught the eye of King Louis XIV, who immediately appointed the young musician to the post of “Instrumental Music Composer.” Soon, Lully became Louis XIV’s favorite musician — he was appointed to the post of “Master of Music of the Royal Family” in 1662 — and the most important composer in France. Today, Lully is known primarily as the first major composer of French opera. (Unfortunately, he is also remembered for the way he died. In January 1687, Lully stabbed his foot with a cane that he used to beat time, and he succumbed to infections that resulted from this injury.) »

11 Feb 2005

A Critical Edition of Faust at Frankfurt

Gounod’s Faust is often billed in Germany as Margarethe. The frivolous Frenchman’s melodies should not be confused with Goethe’s masterpiece. That would be blasphemy. Frankfurt Opera, not a house given to frivolity, has chosen a new critical edition of Faust. Minus the usual cuts, plus intervals, the evening lasts four hours. Add Johannes Debus on the podium, drawing plump, earthy sounds from the orchestra, and you start to hear Gounod with an earnestly German accent. »

11 Feb 2005

Tchaikovsky's The Enchantress at the Mariinsky

A scene from the Mariinsky Theater’s production of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Enchantress. Pyotr Tchaikovsky, arguably Russia’s most popular composer, is being celebrated with a festival of his work at the Mariinsky Theater. The event, which kicks off Saturday with David Poutney’s production of “The Enchantress,” runs through Feb. 20 and features over two dozen performances of Tchaikovsky’s operas, ballets and chamber music. The Mariinsky’s artistic director, Valery Gergiev makes just one appearance during the festival, to conduct “The Enchantress” on the opening night. »

10 Feb 2005

Il primo dolce affanno… The first sweet pain

True to the intent of its series, Il Salotto, Opera Rara offers in this seventh volume a delightful sampling of art songs from the mid- to late-nineteenth-century repertory. Performing them are sopranos Elisabeth Vidal and Laura Claycomb, mezzo Manuele Custer, tenors Bruce Ford and Willliam Matteuzzi, baritone Roberto Servile, and bass Alastair Miles, accompanied on piano by David Harper. »

10 Feb 2005

St. Olaf Choir at Carnegie Hall

The singers marched on stage with near-military precision, the hem of each purple choir robe at the same distance from the ground. When they opened their mouths to sing, an even wall of sound emerged: words clear, notes true. But more than that, the notes were felt. As the music moved through the rows of singers, their bodies swayed like a field of long grass in the wind. »

10 Feb 2005

BUSNOIS: Missa O Crux lignum, Motets, Chansons

The most recent recording by England’s premier performers of Renaissance vocal music, the Orlando Consort, features a selection of works by the renowned fifteenth-century composer Antoine Busnois, works that represent the major genres of music composition of the time — mass, motet, and chanson. The performances are what we have come to expect from the fine singers of the Orlando Consort: warm, vibrant, and precise. »

10 Feb 2005

Stefanie Wüst Performs Monteverdi and Weill in Potsdam

Die bedeutenden Komponisten der Musikliteratur, Claudio Monteverdi und Kurt Weill, suchten sich als literarische „Partner“ Größen der Weltliteratur, un- ter anderen Torquato Tasso und Bertolt Brecht. Und so ist es nicht verwunderlich, dass eine sensible Behandlung der Sprache bei beiden Komponisten in ihren Musiktheaterstücken oberste Priorität hat. »

10 Feb 2005

Amanda Roocroft in Frankfurt

Es gibt Termine, die sind für einen Liederabend in der Oper Frankfurt eher ungünstig. Dazu gehört der Fastnachtsdienstag. Zwar dürften sich die Zielgruppen einigermaßen unterscheiden. Aber zartbesaitete Menschen trauen sich an den tollen Tagen kaum aus dem Haus. So war die Oper, die normalerweise mehr als tausend Personen fasst, beim Gastauftritt der britischen Sopranistin Amanda Roocroft mit Iain Burnside als Klavierbegleiter enttäuschend schwach besucht. Und möglicherweise lag es am Blick auf die vielen leer gebliebenen Plätze, dass Amanda Roocroft ihr Programm zunächst nicht übermäßig engagiert anging und ihr Potential oft mehr durchscheinen ließ als zeigte. »

10 Feb 2005

Der Rosenkavalier at Graz

Hugo von Hofmannsthal bemerkte 1921, dass der “Rosenkavalier gar nichts sei, wenn nicht ein Dokument der österreichischen Wesensart”. Dieses Diktum schien die Maxime der Grazer Neuproduktion gewesen zu sein. Marco Arturo Marelli, verantwortlich für Inszenierung, Bühne und Licht, ist überhaupt ganz offensichtlich ein genauer Kenner von Hofmannsthals Meisterlibretto. Den innersten Fasern und Nuancen des Textes folgend, gelang es ihm mittels eines riesigen, schräg über der Bühne platzierten Spiegels und einer hochsensiblen Lichtregie eine sinnlich-dichte Atmosphäre zu schaffen, eben genau jene spezifisch österreichische “Lebensluft”, um die es Hofmannsthal zeitlebens so intensiv zu tun war. »

10 Feb 2005

Don Giovanni at Toulouse Disappoints Le Monde

Une vague forme humaine étendue dans la pénombre – gisant, dormant ? C’est Leporello. A côté, le fameux livre de comptes de Don Giovanni – mille et deux conquêtes. Quelque part, la mille troisième est en train de se faire “inscrire” : Donna Elvira. La voilà d’ailleurs qui surgit, hors d’haleine, tâchant de démasquer son violeur. Entre rêve et réalité, monde intérieur et espace externe, Brigitte Jacques-Wajeman, qui signe là sa première mise en scène d’un opéra du répertoire, a choisi de confronter le désir vital à l’inconscient mortifère (les mortes eaux de décors en noir et blanc). »

10 Feb 2005

Reviving Mendelssohn's Revival

On March 11 1829 a marker was set down in musical history, when the 20-year-old Mendelssohn realised an ambition to give the first performance in “modern” times of Bach’s St Matthew Passion – a scheme dismissed by his elders as the fantasy of a couple of “snotty-nosed brats”. »

09 Feb 2005

La Clemenza di Tito — Another View

“Classy” is not a word we have come to associate with English National Opera in recent years. Populist, perhaps. Attention-seeking, certainly. But with Mozart’s late opera seria, ENO returns to the old-fashioned virtues of ensemble, intelligibility, beauty, truth. They should be obvious, shouldn’t they? But we rarely encounter them in harmony, as we do here in a production directed by David McVicar, conducted by Roland Böer and shared with the Royal Danish Opera. »

08 Feb 2005

Glass's Akhnaten in Boston

The Boston Conservatory of Music gave two performances, each with a different cast, of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten last week five years to the day after the work’s Boston premiere by the Boston Lyric Opera in February 2000. Aside from the pleasure of being able to hear a big contemporary work again so soon, the two productions were so radically different from one another that a whole new perspective on Glass’s work could be had. »

08 Feb 2005

Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges in Toronto

When you hear a stage prince sing, “Dear orange, we’re finally alone together, just you and me,” you know you’re not listening to the usual grand-opera fare. But, then again, Opera In Concert is not about presenting the Opera America Top 10 list. »

08 Feb 2005

David Daniels in Salt Lake

Even if you have heard a countertenor sing before – and judging from intermission chatter Saturday in Libby Gardner Hall, not many people have – you’ve never heard anyone sing like David Daniels. Daniels, credited with helping revive interest in early operas as well as the countertenor voice, wowed the Libby Gardner crowd with his versatility, stage presence and genre-transcending musicianship. Mozart’s Lieder, Fauré art songs, arias by Handel and Purcell, American folk songs and contemporary music: Daniels brought something distinctive and compelling to them all. »

08 Feb 2005

Christine Schäfer Leaves Lasting Memories in New York

In the early days of the early music movement, ensembles and artists competed with one another over who knew the most about performance styles of the Baroque and Classical eras. The authenticity sweepstakes still goes on. But such insight takes you only so far. I’m sure the musicians of the renowned Freiburg Baroque Orchestra from Germany are as informed about early music performance practices as comparable ensembles. But what made their concert on Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall so gratifying was the vitality and imagination of their playing – qualities that transcend any era. »

08 Feb 2005

La Clemenza di Tito at ENO

Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito was written to celebrate the coronation of the Habsburg emperor Leopold II as king of Bohemia in 1791. The date, two years after the French Revolution, is significant. Depicting a botched attempt to assassinate the Roman Emperor Titus, and his subsequent refusal to execute the conspirators, the opera examines the implications of the idea of benevolent autocracy and draws the conclusion that enlightened government necessitates absolute solitude and emotional isolation. »

08 Feb 2005

Nina Stemme as Marguerite in Frankfurt am Main

Ist so Wagners Isolde angezogen? Schwarzes Kleid, darüber blaue Kittelschürze. Bequemstiefel, Gummihandschuhe. Aber nein. Nina Stemme ist jetzt Marguerite in Gounods “Faust” in Frankfurt am Main. Ausgerechnet. Wagner hätte das nicht gefallen. Noch dazu ein Gretchen als verdruckste, sich an ihr Kruzifix-Kettchen klammernde Saaltochter in einem schmuddeligen Demenzpflegeheim. Isolde, das wird wieder im Sommer sein. In Bayreuth. Wo Nina Stemme freilich bereits auf dem Grünen Hügel debütiert hat: 1994 als Freia im “Ring”. Jetzt wird sie als irische Maid in Christoph Marthalers Inszenierung zurückkehren. Vielleicht sogar in Kittelschürze? Mal sehen, was der Kostümbildnerin Anna Viebrock so einfällt. »

07 Feb 2005

Arabella at Bayerische Staatsoper

Beste Stimmung im Nationaltheater. Und das nicht nur, weil auf der Bühne jahreszeitlich korrekt der Fasching tobte. Nein, nicht die bunten Luftschlangen und närrischen Hütchen peppten den Abend auf, sondern die Sänger. Sie heizten mit ihrem Totaleinsatz die x-te Repertoirevorstellung von Richard Strauss’ “Arabella” so an, dass das Abo-Publikum seine helle Freude hatte. Münchner Opernalltag, der im großen Jubel endete. »

07 Feb 2005

MAHLER: Songs

While a number of fine recent recordings of Mahler’s Lieder with orchestral accompaniment have been released in recent years, his songs are also of interest in the versions the composer made for voice and piano. In presenting the songs with piano accompaniment, Stephan Genz and Roger Vignoles bring out details that can become apparent only in this setting. Genz is known for his fine recordings of Lieder, include the award-winning CD of Beethoven’s Songs, as well as various recordings of Hugo Wolf’s Lieder (all on Hyperion). In this recording of Mahler’s music, he performs with Vignoles three complete sets of Lieder, that is, the cycles Lieder eines farhrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder, as well as the set of Fünf Rückert-Lieder and, further, seven selections of settings from Mahler’s early publication of Lieder und Gesänge. »