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Elsewhere

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.


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Reviews

Melos Sinfonia perform <em>Written on Skin</em> in Cambridge, London and St Petersburg
15 Oct 2017

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.  »

Recently in Reviews

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13 Nov 2008

A powerful, poignant Elektra at the Royal Opera House, London

“This won’t be a total Schlacht of sound” said the director, Charles Edwards, of this production. Instead, it’s a strikingly intelligent interpretation, focusing on the deeper aspects of the drama. »

13 Nov 2008

Aïda – English National Opera, London Coliseum

It is incredibly unfashionable nowadays to stage opera straightforwardly. Welsh National Opera’s recent lavish staging of Otello prompted a dismissive reception from the critics.  »

09 Nov 2008

L’elisir d’amore in San Francisco

There are remnants of snobbery in San Francisco that are happiest when San Francisco Opera associates itself with the likes of Vienna State Opera and Covent Garden, and left positively frightened at the idea of a production from Opera Colorado/Fort Worth Opera/et al. on the War Memorial Opera House stage.  »

09 Nov 2008

Muti's La Traviata

EMI owns this recording, so if pride dictates they repackage it in the "Great Recordings of the Century" series, a dissenter shouldn't moralize. »

09 Nov 2008

Ernani and I Capuletti e I Montecchi on Dynamic DVD

Both these performances come from mid-2005. Teatro Regio di Parma presented the Ernani in May of that year; August saw I Capuletti e I Montecchi on stage at the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca.  »

09 Nov 2008

Andrew Lloyd Webber — A Classical Tribute

Countless must be the number of true opera fans who have heard well-meaning acquaintances say, "Oh I just love opera! Especially Phantom of the Opera." »

07 Nov 2008

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The current revival of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago (seen 25 October) brings together an exceptionally strong cast.  »

07 Nov 2008

Houston brushes up its Shakespeare

In 1830, three years after the death of Beethoven and two after Schubert’s untimely demise, Berlioz, 27, dazzled the world with his phantasmagoric — perhaps drug-inspired — Symphonie fantastique.  »

04 Nov 2008

Boris Godunov at San Francisco Opera

As performed just now by the San Francisco Opera Mussorgsky’s initial (1869), seven scene version of Boris Godunov revealed itself a finished masterpiece.  »

04 Nov 2008

Rusalka and La tragedie de Carmen by English Touring Opera

Of their two tours per year, English Touring Opera tends to channel the majority of the budget into the Spring season, and the Autumn tour – despite a focus in recent years on some high-quality Baroque chamber works, which lend themselves well to the size of the venues around the UK which the company visits – can be rather noticeably the poor relation.  »

04 Nov 2008

Elektra at Royal Opera House

“Opera directing is very different to theatre directing”, says Charles Edwards, director of Elektra at the Royal Opera House this season. “It has to be the music that motivates you”. For this production, he works with Mark Elder, “an extraordinarily theatrically-minded conductor who sees theatre in everything he hears”. »

02 Nov 2008

Wagner Duets: Nilsson and Hotter, Polaski and Botha

A few years ago EMI released a recording of Wagner duets with Placido Domingo and Deborah Voigt. »

02 Nov 2008

The Tsar’s Bride by OONY

What opera contains a terrific overture, a wedding sextet, two murderous magical potions, a mad scene for coloratura soprano, a magnificent a cappella aria for contralto, dozens of glorious melodies and lots of nifty choral writing?  »

02 Nov 2008

Blond Leading the Blond: Scandinavia Times Three

I was just itching to experience the new Oslo Opera House ever since I saw the pictures of its grand opening (ahead of schedule, thank-you-very-much) last April.  »

02 Nov 2008

Boston Baroque’s Xerxes shows the way

Is Boston Baroque period performance’s best kept secret?  »

31 Oct 2008

Lucia di Lammermoor at the MET

Mary Zimmerman’s unmusical production of Lucia certainly improves if you give it a cast of singers who know what Donizetti is about. »

31 Oct 2008

Don Giovanni at the MET

The fascination of Don Giovanni lies not only in the bejeweled score but in the interplay of its eight intriguing characters, each based on an ancient type, yet each somehow cut loose from the formula da Ponte molded so well.  »

30 Oct 2008

Portraits of Domingo and Pavarotti

While the tributes and retrospectives continue to appear for the late Luciano Pavarotti, his sometime-colleague (if not rival) Plácido Domingo maintains a top-rank career, even including a contract with Deutsche Grammophon for new studio work.  »

30 Oct 2008

STRAUSS: Die Liebe der Danae

Gala may be a budget label, but more opera sets of vintage live performances deserve a booklet essay as concise yet comprehensive, critically honest and yet fair, as Andrew Palmer's for this set, which preserves a 1980 performance of Richard Strauss and Joseph Grigor's Die Liebe der Danae. »

24 Oct 2008

Falstaff at Pimlico Opera, Cadogan Hall

Pimlico Opera is based at the Grange in Hampshire, home of the Grange Park opera festival, but pre-dates its sister company by a decade and has been giving national tours of popular operas since the 1980s as well as doing some pioneering opera and music theatre projects in UK prisons. »

24 Oct 2008

BACH: Mass in B minor

Bach’s monumental Mass in b minor exists in an abundant quantity of period performances to the point where one might ponder the wisdom of adding yet another to the shelf.  »

24 Oct 2008

Paris Opera’s new production of The Cunning Little Vixen has a lot going for it.

The good news (make that “great news”) is that conductor Dennis Russell Davies had total command over this ever-shifting composition, one minute lyrical and introspective, the next soaring and rhapsodic, the next percussive and agitated.  »

23 Oct 2008

Turandot without the trimmings

In recent years it’s the headgear of the ice-hearted princess that is often the major source of awe and excitement in productions of Puccini’s incomplete final opera.  »

23 Oct 2008

Cervantino pays homage to Catalonia

Joanot Martorell’s 1490 “Tirant lo Blanc” isn’t on anyone’s reading list these days, and that’s rather a shame, for it — the first Catalan novel — was a favorite book of Miguel de Cervantes.  »

21 Oct 2008

Idomeneo in San Francisco

Munich in 1781 was hardly the big city, not an enlightened Paris where Gluck had recently turned the opera world on its ear, not a European capital like Vienna where Italian operatic imperialism was unassailable.  »

21 Oct 2008

Alessandro Scarlatti: Il Trionfo della Santissima Vergine Assunta in Cielo

“One can easily imagine -- Berkeley professor Donald J. Grout wrote in 1979 -- a Scarlatti oratorio occasionally being sung in church or in concert […], but it is more difficult (though perhaps not quite impossible) to imagine a Scarlatti opera being staged at a modern opera house”.  »

21 Oct 2008

Partenope — English National Opera, London Coliseum

In this new staging of Handel's comic rarity for English National Opera, director Christopher Alden has chosen to tell the classical tale of amorous and political intrigue through the world of the artistic elite of the 1920s/30s.  »

21 Oct 2008

La Traviata at the Washington National Opera

Staging La traviata for an opera company these days is an experience akin to that of a symphony’s orchestra programming Mozart: a great idea fraught with disaster.  »

21 Oct 2008

Salome at the MET

We ought to consider – as opera’s current reigning soprano, Karita Mattila, has certainly considered, though I’m not so sure about director Jürgen Flimm – who, what, and how old Salome is.  »

21 Oct 2008

La Gioconda at the MET

It probably wasn’t intended as a symbol of anything in particular, but at the end of Act II, midway through the October 6 performance of La Gioconda, Enzo’s ship failed to burst into flames, thereby letting the curtain down most unsatisfactorily on what is usually one of the liveliest act finales in grand opera. »

21 Oct 2008

Le Roi d’Ys at Avery Fisher Hall

By the time he completed Le Roi d’Ys, in 1888, Edouard Lalo was sixty-five, approaching the end of a successful career as a chamber violinist.  »

21 Oct 2008

Manon at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A funny thing happened on the way to the convent. Manon Lescaut, a pretty little girl with a taste for pretty things, became sidetracked by a pretty young man.  »

20 Oct 2008

BACH: St. Matthew Passion (excerpts)

There is much to admire in Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach performances with the Bach Collegium Japan, and this recording of excerpts from the St. Matthew Passion will remind the listener of the diverse ways in which this is so.  »

20 Oct 2008

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio

Among the recent releases on DVD of Rolf Liebermann's productions of operas from the Hamburg Opera conceived for television in the late 1960s, Beethoven's Fidelio is impressive for the use of the medium of film to bring out the personal aspects of this intensive opera.  »

08 Oct 2008

Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci — English National Opera, London Coliseum

For the opening of the 2008/09 season at ENO, Richard Jones has teamed up with two separate theatrical writers, Sean O'Brien and Lee Hall, to create unique new versions of the repertoire's most famous double bill. »

06 Oct 2008

VERDI: Requiem / Quattro pezzi sacri

Presented in its fine line of “Originals,” Decca’s reissue of Solti’s famous 1967 recording of Verdi’s Requiem is actually offered with another fine recording, the same conductor’s 1977/78 performance of the Quattro pezzi sacri. »

06 Oct 2008

MONTEVERDI: Combattimento

In recent years, Emmanuelle Haïm has achieved prominence at the helm of several baroque operas, including Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Handel’s Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare. »

06 Oct 2008

The Barber of Seville — English National Opera, London Coliseum

It can be difficult to inject life into a production which has been a staple of a company’s repertoire for over twenty years. »

06 Oct 2008

Macbeth at Bavarian State Opera

If Munich’s new Macbeth production does anything, it stirs emotions and draws heated response. »

06 Oct 2008

On The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Decades ago a New Yorker cartoon showed a very little girl standing on tip-toe to return a book to a matronly librarian. »

03 Oct 2008

Die tote Stadt at San Francisco Opera

Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited about new works. »

29 Sep 2008

Les Pêcheurs de perles at the Washington National Opera

The second offering of the current WNO season is a San Diego Opera production of Georges Bizet’s Pearl Fishers (1863). »

28 Sep 2008

Cool Cavalli at Covent Garden — La Calisto

Planet Earth laid waste by forces beyond our control, hunger and drought squeezing humanity out of existence whilst those in charge look on, laughing, lusting and concerned only with their own power struggles – does this sound familiar? »

22 Sep 2008

Paer’s Leonora from Bampton Classical Opera

Musically and dramatically Ferdinando Paer’s Leonora and Beethoven’s Fidelio might be said to belong respectively to pre- and post-revolutionary ages. »

22 Sep 2008

Puccini's Il Trittico at Los Angeles Opera

A few seasons back, Los Angeles Opera invited William Friedkin to direct a double-bill of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. »

22 Sep 2008

Music for the Court of Maximilian II

Although Jacobus Vaet, Antonius Galli and Pieter Maessens are little-known composers today, this impressive recording featuring their music, the debut recording by the ensemble Cinquecento, may serve as a cautionary reminder that modern familiarity is often the fruit of circumstance and not necessarily a reliable measure of artistic achievement. »