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Elsewhere

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?


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Reviews

27 Jul 2014

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.  »

Recently in Reviews

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22 May 2011

Opera Remade, 1700-1750

This substantial book is one of the latest in the Ashgate series of collected essays in opera studies and draws together articles from a disparate group of scholarly journals and collected volumes, some recent, some now difficult to locate.  »

22 May 2011

Iphigénie en Tauride at the Washington National Opera

The Washington National Opera has concluded its 2010-11 season with Gluck’s 1779 masterpiece Iphigénie en Tauride, arguably the great Viennese composer’s greatest achievement and his swan song (if one does not count that unfortunate flop of 1780, Echo et Narcisse — and luckily, one hardly ever does).  »

22 May 2011

James MacMillan’s Clemency, Royal Opera

James MacMillan has reunited with his librettist, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts, to produce his new opera Clemency.  »

21 May 2011

Don Giovanni, Florida Grand Opera

By Leporello’s count (in the “Catalogue aria”), Don Giovanni tallies over 2,000 sexual exploits. »

21 May 2011

Benvenuto Cellini

Philipp Stölzl’s production of Benvenuto Cellini, from the 2007 Salzburg Festival, is weird almost beyond belief.  »

20 May 2011

Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in Der Rosenkavalier

Classic films often receive the honor of a full “restoration,” especially when a new viewing format appears. »

20 May 2011

John Adams: Nixon in China

A quarter century having passed since its premiere, Nixon in China appears to have secured a niche in the opera repertoire, at least of American opera houses.  »

18 May 2011

Orfeo ed Euridice, Metropolitan Opera

Gluck’s Orfeo is, intentionally, free of clutter. If you cut out the scenes of balletic rejoicing just before the finale (and I can’t think of any good reason not to do so), it’s less than ninety minutes of music.  »

18 May 2011

Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera

There’s a lot to be said for lowered expectations. After last fall’s cramped, over-busy staging of Das Rheingold, I was prepared for a rough night at Die Walküre—and enjoyed the occasion very much, the staging, the direction, most of the singing, even the costumes.  »

09 May 2011

Houston makes sense — and music — of Ariadne

Ariadne auf Naxos, the next major endeavor of the Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal collaboration after Der Rosenkavalier in 1911, has been a special challenge for American opera companies. »

09 May 2011

The Damnation of Faust, ENO

Terry Gilliam was one of the forces behind Monty Python, the popular British TV comedy of the 1970’s. His fans will flock in droves to his version of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust at the ENO, London.  »

29 Apr 2011

Anne Sofie von Otter, Wigmore Hall

For the second time in a matter of just a few weeks, the Wigmore Hall audience were treated to an evening of seventeenth-century song and dance. »

29 Apr 2011

Rigoletto, New York

Rigoletto is the perfect opera. Even Verdi, who wrote so many wonderful scores, never created anything more flawless.  »

29 Apr 2011

Séance on a Wet Afternoon

Saturday, April 23 was indeed a rainy afternoon in New York City.  »

24 Apr 2011

Sumeida’s Song

It has long been my belief that the problems of the planet would be resolved (or move on to their next stage) if only the folk of every ethnicity (nation, faith, historic minority, tribe) would devote their energy to creating opera—and perhaps theater or dance—out of its musical and mythical traditions.  »

22 Apr 2011

The Magic Flute, Manitoba

It’s hard to go wrong with The Magic Flute. Mozart’s final opera contains every audience-pleasing feature in spades: beautiful music, a fairy tale story, romance, laughter, villains, heroes/heroines, and for most — a happy ending. »

22 Apr 2011

Minnesota Opera rescues Herrmann work

There’s more Byron than Brontë in Bernard Herrmann’s 1951 Wuthering Heights.  »

22 Apr 2011

Otello, Carnegie Hall

By the time he emerged from retirement with Otello, his twenty-seventh opera, at 73, there wasn’t much Giuseppe Verdi didn’t know about how to make an orchestra do his bidding, set the mood of each line of a good story, piling excitement on excitement and letting the tension mutate to something gentler at the right times in order to make the outburst to follow the more demoniac.  »

22 Apr 2011

Cyrano, Florida Grand Opera

To enter into David DiChiera’s space as he talks opera shop is to risk being pulled into his world, rapt by a tractor beam emitting a constant flow of music theater load.  »

22 Apr 2011

A Dinner Engagement

Trust Winnipeg’s resourceful Little Opera Company to come up with a little known, yet charmingly entertaining spring production.  »

19 Apr 2011

Handel’s Hercules when the Music is Paramount

In Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Handel’s Hercules there is an undeniable interpretive strategy which prompts the viewer to consider recurring elements of human emotion, e.g. jealousy, rage, pity, among others.  »

19 Apr 2011

Americans define new territory for songs

They all wrote songs — lots of them: Ives, Bernstein, Rorem. In recital, however, the American product has never found a place on the perch claimed by Schubert and Schumann.  »

19 Apr 2011

Ian Bostridge, Wigmore Hall

The most remarkable aspects of this fresh, illuminating performance of Schubert’s Winterreise by Ian Bostridge and Mitsuko Uchida were the masterly control of dramatic form and the insightful, quite original, shaping of emotional content. »

19 Apr 2011

Akhmatova in Paris

The very name Mantovani strikes musical terror in the hearts of high minded Americans and Brits of a certain age. Now the same surname is evidently terrorizing Parisians. »

18 Apr 2011

The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera House

In Russian-speaking countries, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride is much loved. In the west, it’s known mainly for its Overture. The Royal Opera House’s production is the first major production of the full opera in Britain. »

14 Apr 2011

Katarina Karnéus, Wigmore Hall

In Britain, Katarina Karnéus is closely associated with Grieg and Sibelius. Indeed, her career has almost been defined by her recordings of their songs for Hyperion. »

13 Apr 2011

Dallas Boris a monument to Tarkovsky

In those dark days before VCR and DVD, knowledgeable film buffs craved the return of Solaris and Stalker to a local art house screen. »

13 Apr 2011

Christopher Maltman, Wigmore Hall

A Frenchman, three Germans and a Venezuelan-born French national: musical responses to Venice.  »

08 Apr 2011

Tosca, NI Opera

“Show goes on despite fresh bomb scare”. Not exactly the sort of headline a new opera company might have dreamt of for its inaugural production. »

06 Apr 2011

Capriccio, Metropolitan Opera

Richard Strauss, nearly eighty years old and past caring what anybody thought (Pauline aside), ignored the Second World War happening just down the street and collaborated with his longtime conductor Clemens Krauss in an arch libretto about the feud for primacy between poetry and music, concluding with their synthesis in opera.  »

04 Apr 2011

Monodramas, NYCO

New York City Opera’s evening of “Monodramas” (under that general title) may not appeal to the opera-goer who prefers such typical fare as the company’s other offering this week, Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, but I found it a devilish and delightful exploration of the depths of inner consciousness. »

04 Apr 2011

L’Elisir d’Amore

Donizetti described to his father the premiere cast of L’Elisir in terms of lukewarm praise—the tenor only “passable” the soprano’s voice “pretty” and the bass “a little hammy.”  »

04 Apr 2011

Lawrence Zazzo, Wigmore Hall

In this intriguing and unpredictable recital, American countertenor, Lawrence Zazzo, and his accompanist, Simon Lepper, presented a dynamic sequence of American song from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  »

04 Apr 2011

Literalism and Truth: Fidelio, Royal Opera

Proof that literalism isn’t truth: Jürgen Flimm’s production of Beethoven’s Fidelio, first heard at the Met and at the Royal Opera House, London in 2007. »

03 Apr 2011

Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau gave the finest recital so far in the Wigmore Hall’s decade by decade series of German Song.  »

03 Apr 2011

Tosca, Palm Beach

Victorien Sardou wrote the melodrama La Tosca, a play subject to all sorts of incidental drama and off-stage intrigue, for Sarah Bernhardt.  »

29 Mar 2011

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, ENO

Benedict Andrews’ thought-provoking new production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, the latest of English National Opera’s innovative stagings at the Young Vic, juxtaposes images of unremitting modernity with a tapestry of archaic aural colours, all placed within an antique frame which resonates with universal emotions. »

28 Mar 2011

Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera

Rossini’s penultimate stage work, Le Comte Ory, belongs to the tradition of sexy scoundrel operas, along with such works as Don Giovanni, Zampa, Fra Diavolo, Barbe-Bleu, Les Brigands and Threepenny Opera.  »

27 Mar 2011

Orlando Furioso, London

Adapting an extended literary work for the stage remains a challenge today and was no less so in the baroque era. Ariosto’s enormously long poem Orlando Furioso was extremely popular and inevitably his highly coloured characters found their way onto the operatic stage. »

24 Mar 2011

Sarasota Opera Winter Festival 2011

Opera is alive and well in Sarasota. “It feels like it did before,” says Communications Officer for Sarasota Opera Patricia Horwell. »

23 Mar 2011

The Turn of the Screw at LA Opera

An operatic work by an esteemed composer, with a libretto adapted from a great author’s story, staged in an intelligent and well-designed production, featuring singers of the top caliber and a conductor with a deep commitment to the composer’s music, leading a chamber-sized group of his orchestra’s best players — magic in the opera house, right?  »

23 Mar 2011

Machover, Death and the Powers

This is an opera written with a cannon and a feather. There is sensory overload—an overload of sensory overload: lights that shine into your face in the manner of an ophthalmologist scanning your retina; eerie, too-loud sounds that invade you from every direction; dancing patterns of light that may resolve into huge words or huge faces; a great chandelier-harp that sometimes descends to be played, a strumming like the sounds of the sirens in Plato’s parable of the concentric crystalline spheres. »

23 Mar 2011

Philip Glass’s Orphée

With voices of doom predicting the end of the CD format — supposedly to be replaced by downloading — the ancillary art of CD packaging also faces a grim future.  »

18 Mar 2011

Bellini’s I Puritani in Bologna

Vincenzo Bellini’s operas are pure bel canto, with beautiful singing placed above all other considerations.  »

18 Mar 2011

Roméo et Juliette, New York

Is Guy Joosten’s staging of Roméo et Juliette the best-looking production in the Met’s current repertory or what?  »

16 Mar 2011

Magnificent Mahler by Shanghai Symphony

It was, of course, only a coincidence, but a week of ideal spring weather — no rain and low humidity — found Shanghai in a perfect mood for an all-Mahler program by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra on March 12.  »

15 Mar 2011

The Queen of Spades, New York

Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaia Dama (The Queen of Spades) is the longest Mad Scene in opera. Ghermann is already half nuts when we meet him in the park in St. Petersburg on a windy day, and he gets crazier from scene to scene.  »

15 Mar 2011

Aida, London

Strict courtly hierarchies and the repressed formality of ritual juxtaposed with violent sexual jealousy and lurid erotic excess … a stage-world more suited to the Straussian insalubrity of Salomé than to the epic grandeur of Verdi’s Aida, perhaps?  »