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Elsewhere

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.


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Reviews

19 Dec 2014

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.  »

Recently in Reviews

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28 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: Guillaume Tell

On 24 October 1998, the Vienna State Opera presented the opening night of its staging of Gioachino Rosssini’s Guillaume Tell. It was the first Staatsoper production in 91 years of Rossini’s final opera and masterpiece, as well as the Vienna premiere of the 1829 opera’s original French-language version. »

28 Nov 2005

MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross

The compositions of John Tavener, Arvo Pärt, and Henryk Górecki have accustomed us to the degree that religious spirituality has found serious musical voice in the late twentieth century. In their works, a profound language of musical mysticism is wed to various liturgical evocations, creating compositions that seem both authentic in their expression and unusually personal in their genesis. »

28 Nov 2005

LANGGAARD: Antikrist

Watching this DVD, your reviewer suddenly recalled a brief exchange from the film Reversal of Fortune, when the Ron Silver/Alan Dershowitz character says to the Jeremy Irons/Claus von Bulow one, “You are a very strange man, “ and Irons, in the moment that may have won him the Academy Award, replies with eerie blandness, “You have no idea.” »

28 Nov 2005

Thomas Hampson in Recital

Monday evening, November 21, 2005, I was fortunate enough to attend a benefit recital given by Thomas Hampson in the Fox Theater in Spokane, Washington. »

26 Nov 2005

GINASTERA: Musica de camera y Canciones

Orfeo has joined the ranks of CD companies adding artwork to the inner casing beneath the disc. For this recording of Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), a series of photographs of gauchos riding horses on the pampas receives a modified Andy Warhol treatment. »

25 Nov 2005

VERDI: La Traviata

Eight long and dark years later, La Fenice rose, once again, from the ashes following a devastating fire which destroyed the theater in 1996. For the “formal” re-opening of the refurbished Venetian landmark, its management wisely chose Verdi’s original score for his 1853 opera for La Fenice: La Traviata—another survivor that rose from the ashes. »

22 Nov 2005

Lamento — Arias, Cantatas and Scenes by the Bach Family

Dorothea Schroder, as translated by Stewart Spencer, begins her booklet essay for Magdalena Kozena’s recent CD by quoting a review of an earlier disc of the mezzo: “…Kozena is simply marvelous.” Brazen record company self-promotion? »

21 Nov 2005

RAMEAU: Les Indes galantes

Jean-Philippe Rameau is usually remembered today (when he is remembered at all) as an important musical theorist. This limited reputation is unfortunate, because Rameau was a masterful composer known for his sumptuous melodies and colorful harmonies. »

20 Nov 2005

Verdi's Macbeth — The Critical Edition

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a weighty play, and Verdi’s Macbeth seems to be a weighty opera: the three volumes of this edition (two of the full score, plus a smaller Critical Commentary containing the critical notes and a description of the sources) weigh 16.6 pounds. It is remarkable to think that this is the first full score of either the 1847 original or the 1865 revised Macbeth ever published. »

20 Nov 2005

Verdi Songs

I’m told that, if an auditioning singer’s repertoire includes a Verdi piece, the auditors will very likely choose to hear it, because singing Verdi well requires the full catalogue of skills: musical exactness, dynamic range, breath control, sensitive phrasing, the ability to provide a variety of colors in the voice, and, if possible, a large enough personality to truly fill out whichever character is being portrayed. »

19 Nov 2005

DELIBES: Lakmé

I have to admit it: this is the first time I ever listened to the complete version of this early Decca-issue of 1952 (though some sources say it was recorded one year earlier). »

19 Nov 2005

KRENEK: Lieder

While I was listening to this recording of Krenek’s song cycles Durch die Nacht (op. 67) and Gesänge des späten Jahres (op. 71), I started to think about art and memory. »

19 Nov 2005

GLASS: Orion

I first became acquainted with Glass’s music when Lyric Opera of Chicago staged his Satyagraha in the 1980s. Having grown up on a small-town Midwestern diet of Beethoven sonatas and Broadway musicals, I was blown away by his vision of Mahatma Gandhi. »

19 Nov 2005

Heroic Tenors

A happy feature of the King CD is the booklet in German and English: at least 7 pages full of information on the tenor. Then there is the pristine sound of the recordings. Though there is no mention of a concert source I’m fairly sure all the pieces (always followed by generous applause), are derived from the famous Münchner Sonntag Konzerte. »

18 Nov 2005

SULLIVAN: The Rose of Persia

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s legacy suffers from that common malaise that, once a good or bad reputation is made, it is very difficult to be remembered for anything else—be it better or worse. »

17 Nov 2005

An Introduction to... MASSENET Werther

For anyone who is remotely familiar with opera, the first question would be, “What is the need for a recording like this?” Of course, not being familiar with the CD justifies the question, but once it has been played, the realization sets in that the answer was there all along. »

17 Nov 2005

Soprano Songs and Arias

For those who frequent the Santa Fe Opera and Houston Grand Opera, Ana María Martínez is well-known as a superb lyric soprano on her way to a stellar career. With the release of this collection of songs and arias for soprano, the rest of the world will come to know this as well. »

16 Nov 2005

Decca Classic Recitals

The first thought one has is « how nice to have those recitals back like they were issued ». One remembers too well the first days of the CD when historical vocal recitals appeared more or less mutilated, often culled from two or more LP’s so that some tracks were sorely missed. »

15 Nov 2005

STRAUSS: Lieder

The Lieder of Richard Strauss lend themselves well to various interpretations that bring out different aspects of the music. »

15 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: William Tell (Two Reviews)

Not Just a Famous Overture »

13 Nov 2005

STRAVINSKY : The Rake’s Progress

This production, from Glyndebourne in 1975, is a treasure of literate, artistically informed stagecraft. Opera is meant to be seen as much as heard, and productions like this prove that good staging brings a score alive. »

13 Nov 2005

VERDI: Stiffelio

This is the third re-issue (in Europe anyway) on CD of the only existing studio recording of Stiffelio. Luckily it is a rather good one as its live competitors are not recordings for eternity. Neither Limarilli in 1968 nor Del Monaco (at his coarsest in 1972) have much sense of style, let alone a knack for true Verdi-phrasing. Not that José Carreras is flawless. »

09 Nov 2005

TCHAIKOVSKY: Sleeping Beauty

Tchaikovsky counted Sleeping Beauty as one of his best works. The idea came from Ivan Vsevolozhsky (1835-1909), director of the Russian Imperial Theatres from 1881 onward. He had staged several of Tchaikovsky’s operas, and he wanted Tchaikovsky to produce a ballet score with him. »

09 Nov 2005

STRAUSS: Daphne

The formidable Straussian Sir Georg Solti wrote that after the 1929 death of Strauss’s long-time librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, “Strauss lived for another twenty years, but he never again wrote a great work.” »

09 Nov 2005

KHACHATURIAN: Spartacus

Khachaturian was one of the few Soviet composers of the Stalin regime to overcome his public demotion in 1948. Even though he was removed from his job and his works disappeared from the theatres, Khachaturian moved to the world of film music and waited for the storm to blow over. »

08 Nov 2005

Hear My Prayer

This anthology, a twentieth-anniversary commemoration of Aled Jones’ first recording for the Welsh company, Sain, is a re-issue of that 1983 recording, “Diolch â Chân,” along with several other tracks from the mid-1980’s. Jones stepped out of the choir stalls at Bangor Cathedral to become a highly marketed treble, and his relative celebrity, as attested here, was well deserved. »

07 Nov 2005

Méthodes & Traités, series II: France 1800-1860 (Les grandes méthodes romantiques de chant), Vol. IV

As far back as the Middle Ages, students (often only identified as Anonymous) have recorded the methods of performance imparted by their masters. In later centuries, such illustrious teachers wrote and published their own methods. »

06 Nov 2005

RIGHINI: Il Convitato di Pietra (The Stone Guest)

Born in Bologna on January 22, 1756, Righini’s musical career started early when he was a choirboy at San Petronio. When he was nineteen, Righini made his professional singing debut as a tenor in Parma, and one year later he joined the Bustelli Opera in Prague. »

02 Nov 2005

ROSSINI: Der Barbier von Sevilla (Barbiere di Siviglia)

Rossini’s masterpiece is based on Beaumarchais’ first of three plays—Le Barbier de Séville, La folle journée ou Le Mariage de Figaro, and La Mère Coupable—detailing the adventures of Figaro, a barber from Seville, Spain. Rossini was not the first, nor the last composer to set the story to music: Giovanni Maria Pagliardi, Friedrich Ludwig Benda, Johann André, Francesco Morlacchi, Miguel Nieto and Gerónimo Jiménez, Nicolo Isouard, and H. R. Bishop are some of the names that come to mind. »

01 Nov 2005

BORODIN: Prince Igor (Highlights)

Not long ago the record label Delos announced that they would embark on a series of studio recordings of highlights from operas. This intriguing idea seemed to address the recording crisis spawned by the shrinking market for full studio sets, with their high cost for both producer and purchaser. »

01 Nov 2005

BIBER: Missa Christi resurgentis

In 1682 the Archbishopric of Salzburg celebrated its 1100th anniversary with an appropriately festal service in the Cathedral, depicted in an engraving by Melchior Küsel. Küsel’s engraving is a striking image, bringing into harmony the grand scale of the building (not yet one hundred years old), the ornamental richness of the interior, and the strong subdivisions of its space. »

30 Oct 2005

SAINT-SAËNS: Samson et Dalila

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy, musicologist, astronomer, archeologist, poet, writer, teacher, and one of the most important and prolific composers of his generation. Yet, Saint-Saëns’ reputation has, for some time, mainly rested on his instrumental works the “Organ” Symphony, the overture Carnival of the Animals and his oratorio turned opera, Samson et Dalila. »

30 Oct 2005

PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut was Puccini’s first big success, and his first contribution to the repertory. Yet it’s popularity has always lagged behind that of the composer’s following three mega-hits La Boheme, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, as well as some later successes such as Turandot and even Gianni Schicchi. »

30 Oct 2005

Ewa Podleś — Rossini Gala

If Rossini could set a laundry list to music, then Ewa Podleś is one of the few candidates available to sing it. In this CD, recorded live at the Polish Radio Hall in Wroclaw (Wratislavia), during the thirty third International Festival Wratislavia Cantans Music and Fine Arts, the Polish contralto gives ample proof of her status as one of the great singers of her generation. »

27 Oct 2005

ROSSINI: La Cenerentola

Naxos is perhaps the only significant major label regularly releasing complete opera sets. A few have won widespread praise, and certainly the prices, at super-budget level, make them attractive to both first-time buyers and those whose collections scarcely justify an additional set. »

27 Oct 2005

ALBRIGHT: Berlioz's Semi-Operas

This book examines two of the more interesting musical pieces of the Romantic movement: Romeo et Juliette (1839) and La damnation de Faust (1846). Both were composed by Hector Berlioz (1803-69), and were very much constructed in a Gesamtkunstwerk mode where literature, music, and the other arts are fused together in a hybrid style that defies genre and categorization. »