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Elsewhere

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.


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Reviews

Sir Edward Elgar
20 Jul 2014

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.  »

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09 May 2005

Lamentations and Messiah

The Brilliant Classics label has been releasing budget priced recordings on CD for some time now, many to high praise. Complete symphony cycles (for example, of Shostakovich and Bruckner) have been favorably compared in some publications to those from major labels featuring star conductors and top orchestras. »

09 May 2005

ESCUDERO: Illeta

The Basque region of Spain is known as a unique cultural enclave. Within its confines thrives a rich artistic heritage. Composer Francisco Escudero has become one of the most famous 20th century composers from the region. His avant-garde sound blends many eclectic styles with elements of traditional Basque music. »

07 May 2005

Cavalli's La Calisto in Munich

Das Amt des Hausregisseurs gibt es an der Bayerischen Staatsoper offiziell nicht. Wenn aber einem diese Funktion gebührt, dann ist es David Alden. Über ein Dutzend Inszenierungen hat der New Yorker hier bereits herausgebracht. Seine aktuelle Regie: Francesco Cavallis Barock-Oper “La Calisto”, die am Montag im Nationaltheater ihre Münchner Erstaufführung erlebt. Ivor Bolton dirigiert. Das Stück erzählt von der Nymphe Calisto, in die sich Jupiter verliebt. In Gestalt der Göttin Diana bandelt er mit ihr an – was die Gattin natürlich übel nimmt. »

07 May 2005

Missa Solemnis in London

‘The day on which a High Mass composed by me will be performed during the ceremonies solemnised for your imperial highness will be the most glorious day of my life,” wrote Beethoven in 1819 to Archduke Rudolph, the youngest brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz I and his composition student. Rudolph had just been elected archbishop of Olmütz in Moravia, and Beethoven was to write a setting of the mass for the installation the following year. In the event, however, the Missa Solemnis would take Beethoven five years to write and would be one of the grandest and most complex works of his later years. It is also one of the hardest of all musical works to perform. When Harmonia Mundi produced a live recording of the piece, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe, there were many who felt that this was the first time they had heard a performance that had the full measure of the work. This weekend he brings the same forces, the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées to perform it in London. »

06 May 2005

La Wally in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf. Die “Geierwally” als Oper lässt ein Alpendrama mit deftigem Lokalkolorit vermuten. Die Düsseldorfer Erstinszenierung von Alfredo Catalanis “La Wally” bot stattdessen die Seelenstudie einer sexuell frustrierten Gesellschaftsdame, die mit ihrem Wohlstand nichts anzufangen weiß, weil sich ihr der Mann verweigert, den sie liebt. Das Premierenpublikum folgte dieser Umdeutung bereitwillig, jubelte ihr nicht ohne die Lust der Wiedererkennung begeistert zu. »

06 May 2005

Magic Flute in Brussels

Durant les riches années passées à la tête de la Monnaie de Bruxelles, Bernard Foccroulle aura élargi la palette de la mise en scène d’opéra, en faisant appel à des chorégraphes ou à des plasticiens. Ainsi, l’homme de théâtre et dessinateur, le Sud-Africain William Kentridge, grand inventeur d’images fixes et animées. Si l’alchimie se fait entre l’univers visuel du créateur et l’oeuvre qu’il met en scène, cela peut renouveler la question. Dans le cas contraire, on a l’impression de voir, pour paraphraser Godard, non pas «des images justes», mais «juste des images». C’est ce qui se passe avec La Flûte enchantée vue par Kentridge. »

06 May 2005

Soile Isokoski at New York's Zankel Hall

With a voice at once silvery and dark, compact yet ripe with overtones, soprano Soile Isokoski is in increasing demand as a Wagner and Strauss interpreter. New York so far has heard her primarily in Mozart and French opera, most recently as an achingly poignant Rachel in Halévy’s “La Juive” and as Marguerite in the Metropolitan Opera’s glitzy new staging of Gounod’s “Faust.” »

05 May 2005

Un Ballo in Vancouver

Once upon a time, Masked Ball might have made sense. Back in the 1850s, when Giuseppe Verdi wrote it, he based his story on the assassination of Sweden’s King Gustavus III. A despot, cuckold, and philanderer, Gustavus further alienated himself from his subjects by claiming the exclusive right to produce aquavit, and was shot by one Jacob Johan Anckarström at a costume party in 1792. »

05 May 2005

The Very Best of Beverly Sills

EMI Classics’ release of The Very Best of Bevery Sills is a mixed bag. Unlike similar EMI compilations of Maria Callas, Mirella Freni, or Lucia Popp, who all present an array of signature arias or art songs, this release should be re-titled Some of Beverly Sills’ Opera Scenes and a Few Arias. Though Sills performs with an impressive cast, including Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, and Samuel Ramey, this recording would be much more satisfying if is showcased more of signature Sills. »

04 May 2005

BIZET: Carmen

I still remember the incredible excitement in the early 1970s when DGG issued recordings featuring the young conductor, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004). Both the Weber Freischütz and Beethoven Fifth Symphony showcased the craft of an extraordinary talent, an artist capable of making even the most familiar music sound fresh, spontaneous, and new. Music lovers hoped that this son of the great conductor Erich Kleiber would be a constant presence, both in the concert hall and opera house. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: La Forza del Destino

“The policies of recording companies never fail to wonder me.” I am often reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s expression in the magazine, Opera, and I definitely had it in mind when I received this recording. Why would anyone bring out a set with two singers (Bergonzi and Cappuccilli) duplicating their roles of the classic EMI-recording of 1969; maybe still the best buy around? And yet, yet I’m not so sure anymore of the superfluousness of this set. There are two reasons for it. Number one is Carlo Bergonzi. I didn’t think he would be able to surpass his formidable EMI-Alvaro and nevertheless he does. Bergonzi’s voice was slowly changing in the early seventies. He had been singing the most strenuous roles of the repertoire for almost a quarter of a century and still the voice had not suffered. On the contrary, there were no traces of his baritone past anymore. The top was secure, though there never was much squillo and a high C usually became a high B. It was the middle voice that had changed most. It became honeyed, silvery in an almost Gigli-like way. Combined with his inexhaustible breath control, his legato and the way he could colour some small phrases and switch from forte to a heavenly pianissimo it slowly dawned upon many listeners that here was one of the greatest tenors of the century who maybe had been taken too much for granted. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Ernani

“Few tenors today have his ringing top” and “his ringing, clear top” are not exactly qualities one associates with baritenor Placido Domingo, as he has been calling himself for the last ten years. Still, those were the exact words used by critic Peter Hoffer in his reports for Opera Magazine and Opera News on the opening of La Scala for the season 1969-1970. In all honesty, a ringing top à la Corelli is not exactly what one hears on this recording. But there is no hint of a pushed up baritone either. This is 28-year old fresh voiced Domingo with all the beauty and youthful freshness of the middle voice and quite an acceptable top always taking the higher option (A or B-flat) at the end of a solo or a duet. Mr. Domingo has been so long among us that one somewhat has forgotten how meltingly beautiful the young tenor sang, relying on his outstanding vocal gifts. »

03 May 2005

VERDI: Attila

This DVD release, taken from an RAI telecast, documents a 1991 La Scala performance of Verdi’s 1846 opera, based on the life of Attila the Hun. I’ve always felt that early Verdi is one of Riccardo Muti’s greatest strengths. When Muti was Music Director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was privileged to see their concert performances of Nabucco and Macbeth. Both featured breathtaking execution, intensity, and momentum. »

02 May 2005

Der Ring at the Wiener Staatsoper

Beinahe ist die Geschichte zu Ende. Einen Durchlauf wird die Adolf-Dresen-Inszenierung von Wagners “Ring”— Tetralogie in der kommenden Spielzeit noch erleben, dann ist — nach der 25. Aufführung der “Götterdämmerung” — Schluss. Am 2. Dezember 2007 beginnt mit der Premiere der “Walküre” ein neues “Ring”-Projekt, inszeniert von Sven-Eric Bechtolf, dirigiert von Franz Welser-Möst. Dieses wird im Mai 2009 abgeschlossen sein, ziemlich genau ein halbes Jahrhundert nach dem ersten Wiener Nachkriegs — “Ring” Herbert von Karajans. »

02 May 2005

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse at Birmingham

It’s always sensible to arrive early for a show by Birmingham Opera Company, simply to locate the venue. After a marquee for Fidelio three years ago and an abandoned car workshop for Candide in 2003, the company’s Monteverdi project, running since the beginning of last year, comes to a climax in a disused ice rink. »

02 May 2005

Rising Stars in Concert at Chicago

A plenitude of sweet music was in the air Saturday night at the Civic Opera House. It arrived long before Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” its Shakespearean text a paean to “sweet music,’’ that closed the concert by members of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists. »

02 May 2005

Clemenza di Tito at the Met

Operas like “Don Giovanni” or “Die Zauberflöte” today look like repudiations of the formal, almost motionless style that ruled Europe’s musical theater for most of the 18th century. Yet Mozart was surrounded all his life by opera seria, and he wrote four of them, including the early “Idomeneo” and the late “Clemenza di Tito,” which was heard Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera. »

01 May 2005

La Forza in Frankfurt

Vielleicht ist es das beste, was dem krausen Opernschauerdrama passieren kann: Die Macht des Schicksals konzertant, vom ersten Schuss an, der sich von selbst aus der Pistole löst. Die Oper Frankfurt lässt das Werk in der Fassung von 1869 in der Alten Oper unter Leitung Paolo Carignanis hören und hat damit die Einschätzung Theodor W. Adornos angesichts einer Inszenierung des Stücks 1928 am gleichen Ort noch überboten. Die schicksalswütige Romantik des Forza-Buchs, so der damals 25-jährige Musikkritiker, “sei in sich bereits so welk, dass zu seiner Beurteilung Marionettendramaturgie allein zuständig wäre”. »

01 May 2005

Magic Flute in Ferrara

The power of the very greatest conductors to reinvent whatever they conduct is one of music’s great mysteries. Claudio Abbado’s conducting is not the only reason to catch the production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte being toured in Italy and Germany by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, but it is by a very long way the most important. Abbado’s performance is, quite simply, mesmerising. It is so full of musical insight and operatic experience that every bar seems perfectly placed, every detail of the scoring perfectly illuminated. »

01 May 2005

La Bohème at the Florentine

Bring a hankie, the Florentine just opened “La Bohème.” Puccini’s opera, which combines likable characters, elements of verismo realism, poignantly beautiful music and a tragic tale of young love lost, is one of the world’s best-loved operas. The Florentine Opera opened a strong production of the classic on Friday, in which director Lillian Groag found a balance between the story’s humor and pathos. »