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Elsewhere

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

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.


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Reviews

31 Jul 2014

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years. »

Recently in Reviews

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04 Jul 2005

THOMAS: Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime, 1647-1785

Contrary to what one might expect from its title, Downing A. Thomas' book on Aesthetics of Opera in the Ancien Régime is not a comprehensive historical treatment of the subject. Instead, the chapters — which seem to have been drawn from separate articles or other studies — cover a wide range of topics, but are successfully drawn together through a view of aesthetics from a pre-nineteenth-century vantage point; according to Thomas, discussions of aesthetics from the time of the ancien régime "rose out of the many developments in medicine and philosophy ... in relation to questions of sensibility, sympathy, and taste" (p. 323). Cultural and aesthetic issues of the day centered on "the experience of passion, of intersubjective feeling, and of pleasure" (p. 323). Thomas' work rests on extensive studies of philosophical and theoretical writings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it also shows a broad knowledge of present-day analytical approaches and musical and cultural studies. Thomas uses this broad range of sources to argue for the importance of opera as an influence on — and a reflection of — French culture and thought during the ancien régime. The author identifies two basic assumptions that lie behind the varied studies in the book: "First, ... individual operas not only display traces of the aesthetic and ideological circumstances of their creation, but ... they also engage productively in those circumstances. Second, ... opera came to serve as a touchstone in the eighteenth century for understanding the mechanisms behind human feeling and for reflecting upon how emotion impacts social relations." »

03 Jul 2005

FLECHA: Ensaladas

This is a recording that makes a full meal of various salads: in this case, several ensaladas by the Spanish composer most associated with the form, Mateo Flecha, the elder (?1481-1553). Ensaladas toss together different languages and verbal quotations (sometimes musical quotation, as well) in a quodlibet that promotes an appealing sense of variety within the unified frame of their textual themes. »

03 Jul 2005

Claudio Abbado: Hearing the Silence — Sketches for a Portrait

Five minutes into this DVD there has been a lot of talk on Abbado’s aura, his aristocratic reserve and the fact that he is a private thinker. With a deep sigh I was reminded of some of those dreadful documentaries on Arte (a German-French arts channel which I have on cable) that have promising titles and then soon lose themselves in a lot of philosophical treatises without any real content. And what was almost the last image of this documentary?: “In collaboration with Arte” »

03 Jul 2005

Gerhard Hüsch Sings Die schöne Müllerin & An die ferne Geliebte

With a masterpiece like Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin, each generation of singers seems to rediscover the music and make the work its own. The nature of music almost demands that performers arrive at their own approaches, and the resulting differences offer insights into the way the music works and, perhaps, on how perception functions. With something as familiar as Die schöne Müllerin, it is possible to gain some perspective by listening to the way a singers of earlier generations performed the work to sample it, just as aficionados appreciate wine at vertical tastings. By approaching the music in this manner, it is possible to put the differences in perspective by using the nuances as points of reference where interpretations diverge. »

02 Jul 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Schöne Müllerin

An important thing to realize about this DVD is that it is not so much about Die Schöne Müllerin as about the performers, pianist András Schiff and especially baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There are no liner notes about the song cycle itself, and if you want to see texts or translations you watch them go by as subtitles during the performance (you may choose German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, or none.). But, since the cycle is quite well-known, largely through the earlier recordings by Fischer-Dieskau with other collaborators, this omission is not grave enough to detract from the real focus of the DVD: to make publicly available a 1991 performance at the Feldkirch Schubertiade, in which two Schubertiade regulars, Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff, performed together for the first time. The record of the performance is doubly significant because, while Fischer-Dieskau earlier in his career had been one of the preeminent performers of Die Schöne Müllerin, he had not performed it since 1971, and he was to retire from public performance two years later. »

02 Jul 2005

A Review of Kupfer's Production of Der fliegende Holländer

When I was young, my father said: Don’t judge others before hearing them through, listen before interrupting. His advice applies so well to Wagnerian opera, with its potential for diverse interpretation. The greatest works of art have the power to speak beyond restricted parameters of space and time. We may have a preference for one style or another, but when we listen to a new production, it’s a good idea to listen to it for what it conveys on its own terms. Whether we like or dislike something isn’t ultimately the point, for we learn something along the way. »

30 Jun 2005

Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims

When Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims was rediscovered more than two decades ago, its musical brilliance was immediately recognised. But its almost nonexistent plot, designed to incorporate an abundance of superstars, lent credence to Rossini’s decision to withdraw the opera once it had served its purpose — providing entertainment for the coronation of Charles X of France. Experiencing Il viaggio in the theatre, however, reveals its unconventional drama about a collection of upper-crust Europeans thwarted in their plans to attend the coronation to be an essential strength. The very triviality points up human foibles and, in the context of Rossini’s elaborate music, supplies a source of hilarity. »

30 Jun 2005

Così fan tutte at San Francisco

The San Francisco Opera’s 2004-05 season is winding down in nicely palindromic fashion. The company’s final offering, which opened (or reopened) Friday night at the War Memorial Opera House, is a revival of the handsome new production of Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” that began the season back in September, and its virtues remain essentially intact. »

29 Jun 2005

VERDI: Il Corsaro

The CD incarnation of this performance, reviewed earlier on Opera Today, faces the formidable competition of an earlier Philips set conducted by Lamberto Gardelli, with Jose Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, and Jessye Norman in the cast. As a recording, that set remains the best recommendation for this neglected (fairly or not) Verdi score. »

29 Jun 2005

Teatro La Fenice: Gala Reopening

The liner notes dryly state that “This was a stringent programme for an opening-concert audience used to lighter fare at such events.” In the past this would surely have been true but together with “Das Regietheater,” there is now a firm tradition in European houses that the reason for their very existence is art, and preferably in its purest form. Audiences are not there to amuse themselves or even to enjoy the music but to ponder on whatever life’s questions may be at that exact moment. They are mightily helped in their endeavours by conductor Riccardo Muti who cannot be caught with a single smile on his face during more than an hour of music making. Therefore a house where five operas by Giuseppe Verdi were premièred cannot be expected to open with such banalaties as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La Traviata or Simon Boccanegra. Even worse would have been a concert with some prominent singers performing well-known arias and duets from these operas. The danger of enjoyment would have been too great. A conductor who reopened La Scala one year later with that immortal masterpiece L’Europa riconosciuta can be expected to make more original choices. Muti preferred lesser known music by maestros who had some ties with the city itself, even with the opera house. »

28 Jun 2005

HENZE: L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe

Henze’s magical opera L’Upupa oder Der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (L’Upupa or the Triumph of Filial Love) bears the subtitle, “a German comedy in eleven tableaux based on the Arabic.” The “Arabic” here refers to a traditional dream-tale from Syria, around which Henze crafted his libretto (his first such effort as a librettist). Like dreams, which condense from memory several images (of people, objects, actions) that share underlying characteristics into single composite dream figures, L’Upupa condenses many stories and characters into its over determined images. Far from pastiche, however, Henze’s condensations cohere in a compelling tale. »

28 Jun 2005

Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots at Liège

This performance must have been heart-warming for all diehards of traditionalism — no Spanish Civil War, no Palestinian-Israeli conflict, just plain religious warfare in France on the night of the 23rd of August 1572, the infamous ‘nuit de Saint-Bartholomée’ (St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre). One is now almost so used to the excesses of ‘das Regie-Theater’ that one almost is shocked to see such a realistic looking production where dozens of people move on the stage in magnificent authentic costumes all the time (300 of them during the whole opera). As a consequence director Lacombe had his singers act as realistically as possible with real sword fights instead of stylised ones, no squirming on the floor etc. Apart from the visual splendour, everything was concentrated on the music and the singing. »

27 Jun 2005

The Fairy Queen at Aldeburgh Festival

NO FLOTILLA of swans, no dancing green men, no grand descent of the Sun King; in fact no big production numbers at all. Yet this concert performance of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen will be a hard act for the forthcoming Proms appearance to follow. »

27 Jun 2005

Carmen at Styriarte

Vom Bundeskanzler bis zu Deutsch lands Feuilletonistinnen waren alle da. Denn mit Andrea Breth und Ni kolaus Harnoncourt hatten zwei Liebkinder des Kultur-Establishments erstmals gemeinsam eine Musiktheaterproduktion zu erarbeiten. Derartige Kunst-Bande zu knüpfen, ist die nobelste Aufgabe von Festspielen. Womit die “Styriarte” für ihre heurige Eröffnung ein adäquates Zeichen gesetzt hat. Auf der Strecke blieb dabei Bizets “Carmen”; oder zumindest das, was man bisher dafür gehalten hat. »

26 Jun 2005

BARBER: Orchestral Works

EMI has re-released a 2-disc set of some of Samuel Barber’s most compelling orchestral and chambers works on the Gemini — The EMI Treasures label. An album of the same recordings was released in 2001, itself a remastering of original recordings dating from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Disc 1 from both these sets contains music recorded in 1986 and 1988 with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin and released in 1990 as a single disc. The second disc of the set contains chamber music of Barber, recorded in 1995. Each time this music has been released it has received positive reviews. See for example, Jon Yungkans’s review on the The Flying Inkpot; the reviews on Amazon.com; or Victor Carr’s review on Classics Today. »

26 Jun 2005

RESPIGHI: Gli uccelli; Il tramonto; Trittico botticelliano

Ottorino Respighi’s reputation as an arranger of early music sometimes obscures the contributions he made in assembling those works into what are essentially new compositions. The carefully planned suite of music from the Baroque era entitled “Gli uccelli” – “The Birds” – is an excellent example of his ability to adapt older compositions into a new context, and in this case juxtapose music by various composers into a cohesive whole. Respighi completed this suite in 1927, and the orchestrations remain effective, over a half a century later. The idiomatic use of the orchestra makes “Gli uccelli” a fine piece for an orchestra to show its ability to perform as a tightly rehearsed ensemble, and this is borne out in the festival performance preserved in this recording. »