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Elsewhere

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.


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Reviews

19 Dec 2014

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.  »

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09 May 2005

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo in London

The Grand Tour, whereby wealthy Britons travelled through Europe, in particular Italy, imbibing culture at its fountainhead, is the theme of this year’s Lufthansa Baroque Festival. The opening concert focused on Handel, whose reasons for going to Italy were professional, and whose route was unusual. German-born and trained, Handel spent four years in Italy in his early 20s, learning everything he needed to know about the Italian style, and particularly how to write Italian opera. Moving to London, he became its leading purveyor to English audiences for 30 years. »

09 May 2005

Der Ring Along the Amazon

MANAUS, Brazil, May 8 – Richard Wagner set his fantastical world of Valkyries, gnomes and giants along the Rhine, not the Amazon. But this is a city with a long history of thinking large and even outlandishly, which is how the Amazonas Opera Festival here has ended up staging Wagner’s sprawling four-part “Ring of the Nibelungen” cycle in the heart of the world’s biggest rain forest. »

09 May 2005

Margaret Garner Premiere

DETROIT, May 8 – Grand opera is happiest when the issues are big and little neutral ground stands between good and evil. What better topic than American slavery and its aftermath? The Michigan Opera Theater’s premiere performance of “Margaret Garner” on Saturday night had heated the passions, stirred guilt and broken a lot of hearts before a word or a note was written. »

09 May 2005

WEILL: Die sieben Todsünden

A new recording of Kurt Weill’s (1900 – 1950) ballet chanté, Die 7 Todsünden (1933) featuring Anja Silja and the SWR Rundfunkorchestra Kaiserslautern and conducted by Grzegorz Nowak, has recently been made available in the U.S. on the Hässler-Classic label. Also included on the CD is Weill’s Quodlibet, opus 9 (1923) — an orchestral arrangement taken from his 1922 children’s pantomime, Zaubernacht. »

09 May 2005

ZANDONAI: Francesca da Rimini

Strange to think that Magda Olivero has to thank Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas for two of her best known live recordings. Tebaldi cancelled the famous Adriana Lecouvreur performances in Naples 1958 (Corelli, Bastianini, Simionato) and La Scala originally wanted Callas as Francesca da Rimini. Twice Olivero substituted and made the role so much her own that whenever one of these operas pops up in a conversation so does Olivero’s name. Contrary to Adriana, Francesca was not a staple in the soprano’s repertoire. She sang a few performances with Alessandro Ziliano and Tullio Serafin in Torino in 1940 and only returned to the role 19 years later for her second and last run of Francescas. »

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. »