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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.  »

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22 Aug 2005

HANDEL: Saul

Any new recording of Handel under the baton of Rene Jacobs has to be greeted with both respect and interest, even if the absolute need for another recording of this well-represented oratorio is debatable. Perhaps some Handel scholars would argue with that and are still discussing the precedence of the current available recordings — the older Gardiner, the Neumann, or the more recent McCreesh for instance. So, one presumes, this recording of "Saul" on the Harmonia Mundi label must be intended to either trump those three or to at least offer a viable fourth choice for those who prefer their Handel oratorios as complete as possible. And a plus point is that the entire work is squeezed onto just 2 CDs with a total running time of 2 hrs 30 minutes, accompanied by some stimulating liner notes by Pierre Degott that are both informative and absorbing for the non-specialist consumer. »

19 Aug 2005

Britten's Curlew River in Edinburgh

Benjamin Britten’s opera Curlew River was inspired by the Noh plays he saw on his 1956 visit to Japan, after which he asked his regular librettist, William Plomer, to adapt Sumidagawa for him. Eight years later, the opera was composed. Since it lasts only an hour and requires a highly stylised kind of performance, it has never been a favourite with regular opera houses, but it makes for excellent festival fare. The Edinburgh Festival has mounted its own production, directed by Olivier Py, which is well worth catching. »

16 Aug 2005

CILEA: Gloria

Collectors have known this piece for more than a quarter of a century due to the MRF-pirate recording. Some have probably transferred these LP's unto CD-R and don't see a reason why they should buy this issue. Well, there is one and it's a compelling one. The MRF-sound was good mono, obviously culled from a radio broadcast. This Bongiovanni-issue however gives us the original brilliant stereo sound and it makes for a world of difference. I always liked the opera though I thought the first act somewhat lacking in inspiration; the performance only taking fire by Labo's first appearance. This set cured me of that impression while the choruses and brilliant orchestration (even somewhat too showy to prove Cilea had mastered his craft after Adriana where the violins are mostly doubling the vocal line) are now crystal clear and one quickly recognizes the inspired melodious ideas of the maestro. »

12 Aug 2005

La Traviata at Salzburg — Anna Netrebko and More

Mit h-moll in den Untergang. Die Zeit laeuft. Der Tod sitzt bereit. Geteilte Geigen in hoechster Hoehe, triste, abfallende Phrasen. Eine Frau in fuchsrotem Brokat und mit wirrem Haar platzt rueckwaerts in das leere Raumrund. Kruemmt sich, sinkt auf eine Bank, schaut fast erleichtert Freund Hein, einem weisshaarigen Alten, ins Auge. Anna Netrebko ist da. Violetta auch. Es kann losgehen. Die Salzburger "Traviata" hat seit zwei Minuten endlich begonnen. »

07 Aug 2005

LORTZING: Der Waffenschmied

Nineteenth-century German opera before Wagner is rarely performed in the United States, although it is still quite popular in Germany. While works by Spohr, Marschner, and Lortzing, among others, are very much a part of the repertory in many German houses, they are virtually unknown in America, and none of the above-mentioned composers is even mentioned in the index of the new seventh edition of the Burkholder-Grout-Palisca A History of Western Music. This new recording of Lortzing's Der Waffenschmied (The Armorer [of Worms]) suggests not only why this work is still performed. It also suggests that American audiences are missing out on a delightful body of work for the lyric stage. From Lortzing's relatively better-known works, such as Zar und Zimmermann or Der Wildschuetz, to works by Marschner, such as Der Vampyr, nineteenth-century German opera with spoken dialogue is often highly entertaining and musically satisfying, if one is not anticipating work of great gravitas. And who is always in the mood for Tristan und Isolde, masterpiece that it is? »

07 Aug 2005

VERDI: Aida

The director of this production, Robert Herzl, composed an impressively thoughtful and serious essay for the DVD booklet. He considers the historical context of both the opera-story and the opera's premiere, taking into consideration Verdi's staging demands as well as the composer's willingness to compromise for the greater benefit of the production. »

07 Aug 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky

The Cambridge Companion to Stravinsky joins more than a dozen similar volumes published by the Cambridge University Press over the years and devoted to the life and works of a single composer. Each one traditionally is a collection of essays by leading scholars in the field, organized into three main sections — biography; works (mostly by genre); reception and posthumous legacy. »

07 Aug 2005

Renata Tebaldi: A Portrait

For those without videos or DVD's by the Italian soprano, this is a must. For all the others, better to read attentively the sleeve notes as there is nothing new to be found on these two DVD's. The Concerto Italiano can be purchased separately with the same firm. The Bell Telephone Hour selections are still available on the several Great Stars of Opera-DVD's brought out by VAI or on the video exclusively devoted to the soprano. And the selections from Tosca (Stuttgart 1961) are culled from a complete performance, also put on DVD by VAI and somewhat misleadingly called "The only available video of Renata Tebaldi in her signature role" on the firm's web; for convenience's sake forgetting the words "at this moment" as VAI once published another complete Tosca (with Poggi, Guelfi and the late soprano's lover at the time, conductor Arturo Basile). »

05 Aug 2005

BIZET: Les Pecheurs de Perles

Bizet's youthful masterpiece is notoriously difficult to stage. Up to now I have not seen a production which is not slightly ridiculous. So it is an ideal opera for a concert performance or a listening experience. If you are looking for an authentic performance this is not the one to go for. »

05 Aug 2005

BERNSTEIN: Peter Pan

Alexander Frey, upon learning that a song Leonard Bernstein had written for the 1950 production of Peter Pan had been cut before the show opened, wondered if there was other music originally intended for the production that went by the wayside. »

05 Aug 2005

NIELSEN: Maskarade

From the start of its lively and distinctive overture Carl Nielsen's 1906 comic masterpiece Maskarade calls for a light and ironic approach, yet one which brings the ensemble forward with sufficient directorial force. »

03 Aug 2005

ROSSINI: Equivoco Stravagante

A DVD performance of an opera may deserve recommendation for a single memorable performance, or because a rare work has finally been recorded, or simply for nostalgia's sake. How many DVDs primarily offer the pleasures of a witty, imaginative staging, done on a minimal budget? »

02 Aug 2005

Donizetti's Rita at the Wiener Kammeroper

On the evening of 28 July, I had the privilege to attend the Wiener Kammeroper's performance of Donizetti's Rita. Subtitled "The Battered Husband," this one act farce revolves around Rita, the owner of a cafe, and her husband Beppe (Jose Aparicio). »

16 Jul 2005

FAURÉ: Requiem and Other Works

The Requiem mass of Gabriel Fauré is often unfairly overshadowed by other 19th century settings of the mass. The monumental works of Giuseppe Verdi and Hector Berlioz achieve moments of extreme drama by stretching the limits of soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Fauré’s Requiem, in contrast, is an intimate vision of heavenly peace in the afterlife. The soaring melodic lines and compact harmonic progressions evoke profundity through beauty and simplicity. »

16 Jul 2005

MENDELSSOHN: Athalia

In addition, to his popular score to A Midsummer Night's Dream Felix Mendelssohn wrote incidental music to several other plays. Commissioned by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the incidental music to Athalia was intended for a private performance of the play by Jean Racine.  »

16 Jul 2005

The Cambridge Companion to Mendelssohn

The Cambridge companion series provides one of the more scholarly and intensely interesting examinations of musical composers currently available. This is because of its in-depth and multifaceted contributions to each volume, by a variety of musicologists and musicians, as well as overall management of each volume by a well-established and known scholar in the field. The Mendelssohn volume is no exception in this area. It is a collection of fourteen essays that examine the life and work of the nineteenth-century Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. It is divided into four major sections: Issues in Biography, Situating the Compositions, Profiles of the Music, and Reception and Performance. »

15 Jul 2005

MOZART: Don Giovanni

This staging of the Mozart/da Ponte masterpiece took place in 1977, at the Glyndebourne Festival. Although the conductor is Dutch, and members of the cast come from Eastern Europe and the States, a more British performance would be hard to imagine. »

15 Jul 2005

MAHLER: Symphony No.8 in E-Flat

Every so often there appears a recording so good, so almost revelatory, that we find ourselves re-examining the work recorded and our relationship to it, no matter how well we thought we already knew it. Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake’s recording of Schumann’s Dichterliebe was one of the more recent recordings to do this. Now we have Kent Nagano’s amazing reading of (and Harmonia Mundi’s equally amazing engineering of) Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8. Many excellent recordings of this work already exist, and all of them bring a number of insights and extraordinary performances to the work. None of them, however, quite equals Nagano’s overall vision of the work, and no recording of the symphony can match the impressive acoustic accomplishments found here. »

15 Jul 2005

HELLER: Emblems of Eloquence — Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice

In her awesome Emblems of Eloquence, Wendy Heller tirelessly investigates treatises, myths, libretti and letters to illuminate the natures of “real” and “imagined” women who reigned over seventeenth-century opera as subjects of musical portraiture. From Dido to Semiramide, Poppea to Calisto, Heller argues that women and women’s issues dominated the Venetian stage. Librettists struggled with issues of women’s sexuality, dominance, suppression of desire, overt desire, covert desire, homoeroticism and misogyny. And all at the time when, “Venice’s absolute exclusion of women in public life was written into the organization of the Republic.” This apparent contradiction is at the heart of her eminently readable text that displays Heller as a musicological Simon Schama. »

15 Jul 2005

RACHMANINOV: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op.13; The Isle of the Dead, Op.29.

The initial reception of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 marked an unhappy yet decisive moment in the composer's life, one that propelled his stylistic development and the trajectory of his career in new directions. »

14 Jul 2005

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Festival d'Aix-en-Provence

Like Glyndebourne, Aix treats Mozart and Rossini as “house” composers, but Rossini has traditionally taken second place. This summer, in Provence as much as in Sussex, Rossini comes off better. After its two disappointing Mozart productions in the Théâtre de l’Archevèche at the weekend, the Aix festival decamped to the gardens of a dilapidated but enchanted estate outside the town for an evening of pure joy, courtesy of a new Barber. »