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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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20 Apr 2006

BRITTEN: Death in Venice

Even if this recording were a failure (which it isn't), it is indispensable on account of its inclusion of about 90 seconds of music not present in the only other studio recording. »

20 Apr 2006

“l’heure exquise”

After happily scanning the rarity-filled repertoire on this disc, and considering the unusual program order, with sets of songs by Enescu, Chausson, and Debussy alternating with sets by saloniste Reynaldo Hahn, I visualize this recital as an exquisite hour in Hahn’s salon, with three guest composers present, exchanging ideas with their host. »

20 Apr 2006

LORTZING: Undine

Albert Lortzing has suffered much lately. Artistically speaking, he is somewhat moribund. In a recent article in the German operatic magazine, Orpheus, one writer rightfully complained that the once so popular composer has almost disappeared from the German theatres. »

19 Apr 2006

A Night to Remember: Placido Domingo & Mstislav Rostropovich

Only a few seconds after watching this DVD I was reminded of one of the great marketing failures in records. More than forty years ago, RCA brought out several glorious LP’s of young Gigli’s records and they put photographs of the sixty-five year old tenor on the sleeve. »

19 Apr 2006

Song of America: Music from the Library of Congress

In connection with the joint project by Thomas Hampson and the U.S. Library of Congress to present events about American song and other creativity at venues as varied as Kansas City, Fort Worth, and Carnegie Hall, EMI Classics has released this CD containing tracks from three earlier discs featuring Thomas Hampson. »

18 Apr 2006

Alfredo Kraus and Renata Scotto: Villancicos

I fear this is a CD strictly reserved for fans of both singers or for collectors of Christmas albums by classical singers. »

18 Apr 2006

The Rake's Progress at Opera Australia

In March the Glyndebourne Opera production of Jonathan Dove’s Flight played at the 2006 Adelaide Festival. Barely a week later a second Glyndebourne production presented by Opera Australia opened at the Sydney Opera House with further performances in Melbourne at the State Theatre. »

18 Apr 2006

Acis and Galatea at NYCO

This season, the New York City Opera presents Handel's Acis and Galatea. "When it comes to Handel, he not only lives but thrives at City Opera. Here Ovid’s Metamorphoses is both the source and the inspiration for Acis and Galatea, one of Handel’s most elegant and sensual works." Here are two reviews. »

18 Apr 2006

Lawrence Brownlee: Lieder & Song Recital

A few years ago I picked up a buzz among those close to the Seattle Opera Young Artists’ Program that there would be a truly remarkable young tenor in the program’s production of La Cenerentola that year. »

13 Apr 2006

Andreas Scholl at Zankel Hall

On 11 April 2006, Andreas Scholl appeared at Zankel Hall, one of the performance venues in New York's famous Carnegie Hall. According to Carnegie Hall: "On this program, we span a wonderfully diverse variety of music from a variety of places, sung by one of the world’s leading countertenors. »

10 Apr 2006

The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry: Medieval Gardens

Holding “The Rose, the Lily & the Whortleberry” in my hands, I pondered for a moment whether it belonged on my bookshelf or in the CD cabinet. »

10 Apr 2006

VERDI: Nabucco

This 2001 Vienna State Opera production of Verdi’s first smash hit, Nabucco, serves as a textbook example of the “modern dress” production style, for better or worse – and probably, for both. »

07 Apr 2006

LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci

No exact date is given for this performance and there is good reason for it. The sleeve notes clearly state that baritone Enzo Sordello (of the 15 minutes of world fame when the Met fired him for clinging to a high note longer than Callas) sings the role of Silvio. »

04 Apr 2006

ROSSINI: Il signor Bruschino

“A jewel box of a theater”: that great cliché of the opera world comes to mind when viewing a production from the Schwetzinger Festspiele held at the Rokokotheater Schwetzingen. »

04 Apr 2006

Alice Coote Sings Mahler and Schubert

The British mezzo, Alice Coote, will make her Met Opera debut as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro later this month. On the first of April, she gave a recital of Mahler and Schubert lieder, accompanied by Julius Drake. Here are two reviews. »

03 Apr 2006

Nine German Arias—An Urban Baroque Film

It’s always interesting when one’s own opinion about a work varies violently from others’ views, even if they are to date minimal in number. In this case, it is not the music per se that is under discussion but the way it is represented, or in my opinion, mis-represented by this film. »

03 Apr 2006

Don Pasquale at the Met

Don Pasquale is generally considered one of Donizetti's greatest works. Yet, "[o]f the three Donizetti operas being performed at The Met this season, the comedy Don Pasquale has been out of the repertoire for the longest time." This season the opera returns with bass Simone Alaimo (Don Pasquale), soprano Anna Netrebko (Norina) and tenor Juan Diego Flórez (Ernesto). Here are four reviews. »

01 Apr 2006

Gala Concert—50th Anniversary of the Reopening of the Vienna State Opera

Tuxes and gowns, a marathon of trotting on and offstage by renowned singers, a ritzy audience abusing their palms with ritual clapping—yes, EuroArts has another opera gala event available on DVD in this two-disc Vienna State Opera Gala concert. »

31 Mar 2006

RACHMANINOV: Piano concerti nos. 1 and 2

This is a wonderful, recent recording of these popular piano concertos by Rachmaninov. The Piano concerto no. 1 is a studio recording, while the Piano concerto no. 2 is a live version. »

31 Mar 2006

STRAUSS: Daphne

New recordings of complete operas lumber into view these days as the dinosaurs trod painfully into a dying sun in an animated depiction of their extinction. »

30 Mar 2006

OFFENBACH: La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein

Los Angeles Opera opened the 2005-6 season with a staging of Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein, directed by Hollywood’s Garry Marshall. »

30 Mar 2006

Jumalaa kiittää sieluni—Hymns in Finnish

In 2001, Finland observed the 300th anniversary of the Finnish Hymnal. As a part of the celebration, YLE (the Finnish public broadcasting company) launched a project to record a substantial portion of the hymnal in performance by soloists or ensembles. »

30 Mar 2006

Darkling by American Opera Projects

The East Thirteenth Street Theatre is so unprepossessing that it would be easy to miss it altogether. From the street the entrance looks like an ice cream shop more so than a theatre. The crowded foyer has chairs around little tables and a food service counter. »

29 Mar 2006

Franz Schubert: The Trout • The Greatest Love and The Greatest Sorrow

In this compelling documentary, Christopher Nupen has captured rare and wondrous collaborations by some of the greatest twentieth century performers as they pay tribute to an early nineteenth century musical treasure, Franz Schubert. »

29 Mar 2006

The Jessye Norman Collection from Philips

Jessye Norman’s long-time label, Philips, celebrates the artist’s sizeable recorded heritage with an expansive series of double CDs of re-releases, under the sobriquet The Jessye Norman Collection. »

29 Mar 2006

Hit and miss in Amsterdam’s Cavalleria and Pagliacci

Guy Joosten, who recently directed the Met’s new Roméo et Juliette, reworked an attempt of Cav and Pag presented at the Essen Opera for the Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. I cannot say he succeeded or to put it more plainly: Cav was bad and Pagliacci suffered too. »

28 Mar 2006

"Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess" at NYC Opera

Having missed the first 10 minutes of Lysistrata, Or the Nude Goddess, I foolishly crept into my seat where I saw what appeared to be four raging Lainie Kazan’s protesting war by Athenian ruins. »

24 Mar 2006

PUCCINI: Turandot

Here is a Turandot to watch with the sound off—not because the singers misfire so badly, although no one really impresses. »

23 Mar 2006

FAURÉ: The Complete Songs 3 — Chanson d’amour.

The theme of the third volume of Hyperion’s set of the Complete Songs of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) is Chanson d’amour, which takes its name from a piece in the composer’s opus 27 set – a compilation devoted to the love song. »

22 Mar 2006

WHITACRE: Cloudburst and other choral works

There is little doubt about the popularity of Eric Whitacre’s music among North American choral ensembles. With the release of this Hyperion disc, the international choral scene may soon become enamored as well. »

21 Mar 2006

ROSSINI: Maometto Secondo

Before you watch this DVD, the best thing you can do is read the sleeve notes. They are brief but to the point; and they succinctly tell you the differences between this Venice version and the traditional one. »

21 Mar 2006

VERDI: La forza del destino

After issuing recordings of Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Simon Boccanegra, and Macbeth, Opera Rara continues it series of Verdi Originals—first versions of operas the composer later revised—with La forza del destino. »

21 Mar 2006

MOZART: Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte

This is an absolutely wonderful, live performance recording of two of Mozart’s best operas, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. »

21 Mar 2006

City Opera’s Production of The Most Happy Fella

The New York City Opera opened its spring 2006 season with a new production of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, which premiered on Broadway fifty years ago in 1956. »

20 Mar 2006

SCHUBERT: Symphony no. 9

This is an absolutely fabulous recording of Schubert’s final symphony, which is often compared as his closest composition to the style of Beethoven. »

20 Mar 2006

MONTEVERDI: L'Orfeo

In the 1990’s Pierre Audi staged productions of Monteverdi’s three surviving operas (L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, and L’incoronazione di Poppea) with De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam. »

20 Mar 2006

Maria Callas — Three Remastered Releases from EMI

Of all opera singers of the last century, no one better dominated the genre’s star power than Maria Callas. During her thirty-four years onstage, she came to embody the essence of the term “diva,” both in her stormy personal life and her equally tempestuous stage career. »

17 Mar 2006

My Name is Barbara

Barbara Bonney’s discography is extensive and wide-ranging, including opera and oratorio, as well as lieder recitals from Mozart and Mendelssohn through the major Romantics to Zemlinsky. »

17 Mar 2006

Hercules at the Barbican — Five Reviews

Hercules (HWV 60) was first performed on 5 January 1745 at King's Theatre, Haymarket, London. Categorized as a drama, it traditionally has been performed in the oratorio style (i.e., a concert performance). Following its performance as an opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, this production by William Christie now appears at the Barbican in London. "This extraordinary opera recounts the tragic tale of a hero literally poisoned by the jealousy of his misguided wife. In this modern-dress production, punctuated by Greek references, the action takes place on a sand-covered, amphitheatre-style arena where the chorus is used as Handel originally intended, to embody the people of Trachis and comment on the action." Here are five reviews. »

16 Mar 2006

Songs for Ariel

Of the countertenors coming to the fore in the generation following Alfred Deller, few, if any, have achieved the prominence or performance longevity of James Bowman. »

16 Mar 2006

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets. Tchaikovsky’s score alone is synonymous with Christmas—one can even say that it is what keeps this ballet alive. »

16 Mar 2006

MAHLER: Symphony no. 4
BERG: Sieben Frühe Lieder

A critical aspect of Mahler’s music is the way the composer often juxtaposed the familiar and the new, and this dichotomy is reflected strongly in his Fourth Symphony. »