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Elsewhere

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.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.


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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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15 Apr 2005

DUNSBY: Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song

In Making Words Sing, Jonathan Dunsby investigates what he calls the "vocality" of song, that is, the "quality of having voice," as the author states in the introduction to his study. By using this perspective, Dunsby focuses on the intensification of the text that occurs when words are set to music, which stands in opposition to the kind of "songfulness" that Lawrence Kramer discussed in Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002). »

15 Apr 2005

English Choral Music

One has to wonder if the number of recordings of English choirs singing English choral music will ever reach a saturation point. This Naxos double disc by the Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge, may very well signify such a moment through its attempt to chronicle the succession of English choral music from the 19th century to the present. The choir of men and boys sings gloriously, nearly equaling their more famous sister choir at King’s College, yet the musical montage is rather unusual. »

14 Apr 2005

Tristan at Paris

PARIS, April 13 – Huge, dense, taxing, with almost all the action taking place in the heart, Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” is notoriously difficult to stage. Indeed, the composer himself abandoned his first attempt in Vienna in the early 1860’s after no fewer than 77 rehearsals. Now, in a daring experiment, the Paris National Opera has invited the American video artist Bill Viola to accompany the work with his own visual commentary. »

14 Apr 2005

Masked Ball at Covent Garden

The aesthetics of this new staging have been determined by a co-production deal with Madrid and Houston, rather than by any wish to explore Verdi in a modern context. Like La forza del destino earlier this season, it is an old-fashioned singers’ show – safe, bankable, peppered with big-house spectacle but oblivious to the characters’ psychology and Verdi’s elegantly crafted dramatic situations. The onus for making those situations come alive once again falls on Antonio Pappano. »

13 Apr 2005

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

After playing a few tracks I was reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal’s review of a 1973 Callas and Di Stefano-concert in his own Opera Magazine: “This is one of the saddest reviews I ever had to write.” »

13 Apr 2005

RANDALL & DAVIS: Puccini & the Girl

"Puccini & the Girl" is a rare and engrossing work of scholarship that can be enjoyed on several levels. For the Puccini-lover, to say nothing of one who has a special interest in La Fanciulla del West, it will provide a wealth of information not previously available, particularly all in one place. Any one interested in the creative process will find it exposed and examined clearly. The scholar will recognize the fascinating chance discovery, the thrill of the chase and the deep rewards of work undertaken lovingly and with rigorous care by the dedicated and passionate co-authors. »

13 Apr 2005

HANDEL: Athalia

I have long been accustomed to the grumblings of my German and Italian colleagues concerning the pronunciation and expression of musical works in their native languages by English-native singers and choirs. I had chalked it up to benevolent xenophobia, but this beautiful recording gives me new insight into their perspective. »

11 Apr 2005

Faust at Linz

Kam da doch glatt ein Franzose (ausgerechnet!) und stellte 1859 nonchalant das deutsche Literatur-Nationalheiligtum vom Kopf auf die Füße! Sprich: Ignorierte Goethes Motto “Wer vieles bringt, wird manchem etwas bringen” und nahm des Dichterfürsten Ideendrama als Text-Steinbruch einer amour fou. Bei den deutschen Kritikern fiel das Stück durch, das Publikum hingegen war begeistert, bekam es doch genau das zu sehen, wonach es in einer Oper dürstet. »

11 Apr 2005

Pearl Fishers at NYCO

The new “Pearl Fishers” that arrived at New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon came from the San Diego Opera, but it looks as if it came from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Maybe it was the fluorescent hues; or the attempt to create local color with tinselly choreography; or the stylized patterns painted on the stage, like sun on sand, and the women’s bikinis, which evoked the flavor of a recent addition to the Games, beach volleyball. »

11 Apr 2005

Olga Borodina in New York

My last encounter with Olga Borodina as a songstress was a particularly memorable one, and I daresay it was for her as well. In May 2001 she postponed a Carnegie Hall recital literally at the last minute, a hastily scrawled piece of paper taped over the poster out front our only greeting. Ms. Borodina was suffering from allergies and gamely attempted to forge ahead a week later with James Levine at the piano. The afternoon was challenging, but the half-empty hall was populated by a dedicated group that admired her courage. »

11 Apr 2005

More on Mignon at OONY

Once upon a time, Freedom Fries didn’t exist, no one made apologies for charm and grace, and operas like Ambroise Thomas’ “Mignon” (1866, revised 1870) ruled the boards. As it happens, April 2005 is a throwback to those innocent days of musical Francophilia in New York. The Philharmonic just performed “Damnation of Faust” by Berlioz; a new staging of Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” opened yesterday at New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera presents Gounod’s once-ubiquitous “Faust” with a promising cast later this month. »

11 Apr 2005

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise

When it comes to any new recordings of Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, it is difficult not to think of the fine performances by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at various points in his career. While Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings can serve as points of reference, the recent CD by the baritone Andreas Schmidt adds to the many excellent recordings that already exist for this work. Schmidt brings to this cycle a personal and effective interpretation that emerges clearly in the recording, where the close ensemble with Rudolf Jansen results in a nuanced performance. By allowing themselves fluid tempos, the performers allow the text to serve the music well. At times they linger over a syllable or stretch a phrase to reinforce the meaning. These are subtle differences that are at the core of experienced and effective Lieder performance. »

10 Apr 2005

Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims at the Mariinsky

Rossini’s long-lost, magnificent “party piece,” originally created for an army of bel canto singers, “Il Viaggio a Reims,” is being revived at the Mariinsky Theater, where it premieres on Wednesday with a further performance on April 16. The French actor and director Alain Maratrat is responsible for the staging, while his compatriot Pierre Alain Bertola created the sets. With their show, the French team promises an explosive fusion of Rossini’s subtle comedy and raving Russian madness. »

10 Apr 2005

The Crucible in Boston

Sex, religion and real estate: Put ‘em together, and you’ve got a plot that will bring out the best and the worst in any cast of characters. »

09 Apr 2005

Madama Butterfly at Volksoper Wien

Sieben von zwölf seiner Bühnenwerke sind nach einer Frau benannt. Puccini selbst wird der Satz nachgesagt: “Wenn ich nicht mehr verliebt bin, begrabt mich!” Was lag daher für Regisseur Stefan Herheim näher, als sich der “Madama Butterfly” aus dieser Perspektive zu nähern, die Bühne zeitweise zu einem Puccini-Museum zu machen. Mit stummen Auftritten von Tosca, Mimi und Manon Lescaut, aber auch dem Komponisten selbst. Ungewohnt auch Butterflys Ende: Sie muss in einem blutrünstigen Harakiri ihr Leben lassen. »

09 Apr 2005

Die Tote Stadt in Amsterdam

Die Tote Stadt is often described as Erich Korngold’s masterpiece. An enormous success when first performed simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne in 1920, it has become one of those pieces every opera fan has heard of, yet few have seen: it has never been staged in Britain. That makes the new production from Netherlands Opera a real collector’s item. Musically and dramatically, it does the work proud. What it can’t do, though, is turn a deeply flawed piece into a good one. »

09 Apr 2005

La finta giardiniera in Cleveland

The CIM Opera Theater is offering two revelations this week, one old and one new. What a joy to experience Mozart’s neglected “La finta giardiniera,” which the precocious fellow wrote at the age of 18. The more recent discovery is soprano Jung Eun Oh, who was a sensation in the title role at Wednesday’s opening. »

09 Apr 2005

Tancredi in Toronto

There is one conspicuous reason for reviving Rossini’s Tancredi in our time. Fortunately that reason — the availability of the Polish contralto Ewa Podles — underlay the Canadian Opera Company’s production of that work which opened Friday night for six performances at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto. »

08 Apr 2005

Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina in Frankfurt

Alcoholism, depression and loneliness were a few of the things that killed Modest Mussorgsky in 1881. He was 42 years old. He left behind the unfinished piano score of Khovanshchina, a vast historical opera that was, among other things, a criticism of Tsar Peter I. »

08 Apr 2005

Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon at OONY

Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night’s opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas’s second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages. »

07 Apr 2005

Der Ring in Chicago

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country’s most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music – even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home. »

07 Apr 2005

Un ballo in maschera at the Met

Humor is not a quality normally associated with Verdi. He was a dour fellow, dubbed “the bear of Busetto” by his long-suffering wife. His first comic opera, “Un giorno di regno,” was a crashing failure, and “Falstaff,” his final work for the stage, looks more intently into the abyss than most commentators care to admit. »

06 Apr 2005

HANSEN: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

Jack Winsor Hansen's 520-page biography of Sibyl Sanderson (1865 - 1903) is packed with romanticism and gossip that will delight and titillate true worshipers of operatic divas and inquisitive opera fans. It also fills a gap in the music-historical writings about opera at the end of the 19th century. »

06 Apr 2005

More On Fanciulla

While ruminating about “Madama Butterfly” in these pages the other week, I mentioned that the de facto premiere of the work was not in Italy at all but rather New York, since the David Belasco play originally opened on Herald Square. In the case of “Girl of the Golden West,” both the Belasco theatrical piece and the Puccini opera were launched in Manhattan, the latter under Toscanini in 1910. »