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Elsewhere

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Battles administration neglects FLO’s assets by defunding the program

The college administration and President Denise Battles’ recent decision to defund the Finger Lakes Opera came as a shock to many and a concern to more. This decision reflects the administration’s blatant disregard for the arts and reveals a mindset that is counterproductive to the mission of the college.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.


OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Written on Skin</em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
15 Jan 2017

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment. »

Recently in Reviews

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03 Apr 2013

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, Los Angeles

Composer John Adams’ smashing, crashing and poignant The Gospel According to the Other Mary, created in collaboration with Peter Sellars, made its second appearance at Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.  »

31 Mar 2013

Nabucco, Royal Opera House, London

“Gli arredi festivi giù cadano infranti, Il popol di Giuda di lutto s’ammanti!”. Verdi’s Nabucco at the Royal Opera House respected the spirit of the opera. »

26 Mar 2013

Flying Dutchman at LA Opera

The Los Angeles Opera company opened its spring season in celebration of Richard Wagner's bicentennial with the composer's The Flying Dutchman, written in 1843.  »

26 Mar 2013

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna

Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon) has been performed in Houston and Paris.  »

20 Mar 2013

I Lombardi, UC Opera London

Don’t miss UC Opera’s I Lombardi at the Bloomsbury Theatre.  »

19 Mar 2013

Francesca da Rimini at the Met

Sets and costumes are gorgeous and the singing is good, but the libretto’s slow and continuously interrupted dramatic action grows tiresome »

18 Mar 2013

Götterdämmerung at the Staatsoper Berlin

In the final of scene of Götterdämmerung in a new production at the Staatsoper Berlin, Brünnhilde appears in a flowing pink gown just as the music has modulated and penetrates the hall of the Gibichungs, represented by rows of glowing translucent boxes that preserve the dismembered limbs of their victims.  »

15 Mar 2013

Robert Carsen’s Falstaff, Paris

With Robert Carsen’s production of Falstaff almost inescapably making the rounds of the world's operatic stages, it is well worth it to take in another production altogether.  »

15 Mar 2013

Cenerentola at Paris Opéra

Rossini's “other” comic masterpiece of 1817 came into the world only a few weeks after the much better known The Barber of Seville. But it has had a place in the repertoire since its premiere.  »

12 Mar 2013

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger in Chicago

Productions of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg are ambitious undertakings, if only for the number of performers involved and the duration of orchestral and vocal commitment.  »

11 Mar 2013

The Verdi Requiem in Naples

San Francisco and Naples have much in common these days — streets with potholes, ever more gourmet pizzerias, homeless, etc., and, yes, Nicola Luisotti.  »

11 Mar 2013

Il Trovatore at Arizona Opera

Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist, Salvatore Cammarano, based the opera on Antonio García Gutiérrez’s Spanish play El Trovador.  »

10 Mar 2013

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin's Written on Skin sinks deeply into the psyche. A Protector wants brightly coloured images to display his power and wealth.  »

09 Mar 2013

Lully’s Phaeton at the Barbican, London

Jean-Baptiste Lully's Phaeton is rarely heard live in Britain, so this performance with a superlative cast was a special occasion. It was part of the Barbican Hall's continuing series of baroque, and particularly French baroque operas. »

06 Mar 2013

Barber by ENO

ENO’s advertising emphasises the ‘25th anniversary year’ of Jonathan Miller’s staging of The Barber of Seville. It holds the stage well enough without offering any especial insight — at least by now.  »

05 Mar 2013

Wagner Parsifal at the Met

This prioduction of Wagner's Parsifal, directed by François Girard, premiered in Lyons last year. The Met, being a far wealthier house, was able to assemble a truly spectacular cast: Jonas Kaufmann, René Pape, Katarina Dalayman, Peter Mattei and Evgeny Nikitin. Success guaranteed, even if the production is European and modern. These performances set new benchmarks. This Parsifal will be the stuff of legend for decades to come. »

05 Mar 2013

An Interview with Virginia Zeani

Palm Beach audiences are famous for their glamour, but in recent years a special star has sparkled amid the jewels, sequins, feathers and furs (whatever the weather).  »

05 Mar 2013

Tosca, Royal Opera

Puccini’s “shabby little shocker”, to quote Kerman, does not invite subtlety. For those who feel that opera — a hybrid art form encompassing all the arts and embracing all of life and love, transfiguration and tragedy — is ideally suited to depicting the excesses of human ecstasy and suffering, Tosca epitomises the immoderations of the genre. »

05 Mar 2013

Bernarda Fink and the Italian Baroque

Argentinean mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink continued her series residency at the Wigmore Hall with an unusual programme of Italian baroque works, partnered by the Academy of Ancient Music, led by violinist Rodolfo Richter.  »

02 Mar 2013

Samson and Delilah, San Diego Opera

Samson and Delilah is the only opera by Camille Saint-Saens that is still regularly performed. He had written two previous operas and would write several more, along with a long list of instrumental pieces including The Carnival of the Animals. »

02 Mar 2013

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera

When opera companies arrange their seasonal schedules, one wonders how much thought they give to Valentine’s Day. If it falls in the midweek, it is potentially a very propitious day for getting people out: that is, if the opera is right. »

26 Feb 2013

Rigoletto at the Met

Michael Mayer’s glitzy neon lights production, set in Rat Pack-era Sin City, proves a fitting backdrop for an opera about a curse »

26 Feb 2013

Munich’s Rambunctious Ring

Bavarian State Opera’s recent staging of Der Ring des Nibelungen was often a restless, even reckless affair, but there is no denying its substantial musical assets.  »

21 Feb 2013

Hugo Wolf, Wigmore Hall

Fun and Hugo Wolf ? Wolf's songs are the epitome of art song, due great reverence. But they're also vibrant with good-hearted wit. This latest concert in Julius Drake's ongoing "Perspectives" series at the Wigmore Hall brought together Sophie Daneman, Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake, all of whom have been working together for many years. The chemistry was almost palpable.  »

17 Feb 2013

Charpentier’s Medea at ENO

In 1704, 11 years after its first performance in 1693 before the royal court of Louis XIV, and 17 years after the death of Lully — and at a time when the relative merits of respective French and Italian aesthetics were constantly and fiercely being debated — Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Médée was condemned by the ‘Lullist’ faction, who were determined to defend their leader’s guardianship of the tragédie en musique, as an ‘abomination’: hard, dry and characterised by excess. »

17 Feb 2013

Stuttgart: Too Hot to Handel

With its staging of Alcina, Stuttgart Opera seems to set out to prove that George Friedrich Handel can be all ‘sexypants.’  »

14 Feb 2013

Elektra in Marseille

Sadistic revenge and sadistic challenge in equal parts. You know the story — if Oreste had not slaughtered his mother Elektra would have. And did over and over in nearly two hours of raving about killing her mother. Elektra is one of the repertory's more beloved operas. »

12 Feb 2013

Radamisto at Barbican Hall

Handel's Radamisto HWV 12a confirms the Barbican Hall as one of the finest places for baroque in London. Superb performances from David Daniels, Luca Pisaroni, and Patricia Bardon, with Harry Bicket conducting The English Concert from the harpsichord »

11 Feb 2013

Palm Beach Opera Celebrates New Season

Palm Beach Opera opened its new season with the opera that began it all, La Traviata.  »

11 Feb 2013

Bernarda Fink Residency, Wigmore Hall

For the first of her two February recitals at the Wigmore Hall, the Argentinean mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink was joined by the Hugo Wolf Quartett in an eclectic, Italian-themed programme in which singer and instrumentalists sculpted diverse and beautiful musical vistas and communicated a remarkably coherent, shared vision. »

11 Feb 2013

Erik Satie, Socrate and Igor Stravinsky. Renard and other works

This concert was part of a greater weekend of concerts at the Southbank Centre looking at Paris during the second and third decades of the twentieth century, the weekend itself part of the year-long Rest is Noise season.  »

10 Feb 2013

Joyce DiDonato: Drama Queens

Joyce DiDonato brought her Drama Queens tour to the Barbican Hall last night, 6 February 2012. Accompanied by Il Complesso Barocco, directed by Dmitry Sinkovsky, she enabled us to hear a wide range of arias by mainly Italian baroque composers from Monteverdi to Handel, by way of Porta, Cesti, Orlandini and Hasse. »

10 Feb 2013

Die Entfûhrung aus dem Serail in Montpellier

The fearsome Ottoman Turks had threatened the Austrian borders for centuries. But Mozart’s little singspiel makes light of this truly serious situation, and offers a quite enlightened resolution for the conflict as well. »

10 Feb 2013

Dialogues of the Carmelites in Toulon

Boasting one of France’s grandest opera houses (said to be the model for Paris’ Opéra Garnier) Toulon hosts a season of five operas — Aida, Butterfly and Flute are hand in hand with Carmen and, yes, Dialogues des carmélites.  »

07 Feb 2013

Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House

Kasper Holten’s directorial debut in the Royal Opera House begins with silence.  »

06 Feb 2013

Fille du Regiment from San Diego Opera

Born to a very poor family in 1797, Gaetano Donizetti was lucky enough to become the pupil of Johann Simone Mayr, the Maestro di Capella of his native city, who recognized his talent and made sure he received appropriate instruction.  »

06 Feb 2013

Tosca by Arizona Opera

The libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa for Giacomo Puccini’s opera Tosca is based on Victorien Sardou’s French play, La Tosca.  »

06 Feb 2013

Amsterdam: Tell Hits a Bulls Eye

With a visually beautiful and dramatically honest staging, Netherlands Opera has made as compelling a case as I would imagine possible for Rossini’s grand opera Guillaume Tell. »

03 Feb 2013

Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: Nave

An important new book on Italo Montemezzi sheds light on his opera Nave. The author/editor is David Chandler whose books on Alfredo Catalani have done so much to restore interest in the genre.  »

02 Feb 2013

Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin

Recent seasons have seen a surge in so-called ‘Holocaust operas,’ from Peter Androsch’s Spiegelrund, which premiered in Vienna last week, to Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger, unveiled with a half-century of delay in Bregenz in 2010.  »

02 Feb 2013

A Timeless Hänsel und Gretel in Chicago

In remounting its 2001 production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel Lyric Opera of Chicago has demonstrated the timeless nature of the score and narrative as well as the ingenuity of the production with its thoughtful and touching updating to a twentieth-century milieu.  »

01 Feb 2013

Maria Stuarda at the Met

The Met’s opulent and well-sung Maria Stuarda cannot overcome its insipid libretto. »

31 Jan 2013

Soile Isokoski - Wigmore Hall - Sallinen

Soile Isokoski and Maria Viitasalo made a welcome return to theWigmore Hall, London. Their recital was a masterclass in what singing really should be about: not simply sound production, but the expression of meaning.  »

23 Jan 2013

Pelléas et Mélisande in Nice

Pelléas et Mélisande, in t-shirts and jeans, were out riding bicycles. They came upon a fountain. You know what happened. »

23 Jan 2013

Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall - Warlock, Britten

Surveying British chamber and instrumental music written between the 1890s and WWII, the Nash Ensemble’s Wigmore Hall residency series, Dreamers of Dreams, has illuminated the creativity and originality of British musical life during this period, revealing the shared and the idiosyncratic preoccupations of composers; the intertwined biographies of musicians; the influence of key individual performers on repertoire, style and idiom; the dialogue between old and new; and the prevailing shadows of war and irreversible change. »