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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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30 Mar 2005

LAURIDSEN: Lux aeterna

The title piece, Lux aeterna (light eternal), a five-movement work by American composer Morton Lauridsen (b.1943), is intended to be an “intimate work of quiet serenity.” The composer’s quest for texts that express “hope, reassurance, faith and illumination in all of its manifestations,” results in a free compilation from various liturgical observances or feasts: the Introit from the Requiem; select verses of the Te Deum, sung at the end of Matins on Sunday or in thanksgiving for a special blessing, interpolated with a verse from the Beatus vir (Ps. 111:4); verses from O nata lux, the Lauds hymn for the feast of the Transfiguration; Veni sancte spiritus, the sequence for Pentecost; and the Agnus Dei and Communio from the Mass for the Dead with an “Alleluia” tag added by the composer. Admittedly, the work is non-liturgical. Still, the fashioning of these texts causes the work to be viewed by some as a “Requiem” or quasi “German Requiem.” Indeed, it is neither a Requiem nor a Mass for the Dead, in spite of the opening and closing movements. As a meditation on “light eternal,” texts other than those from the Requiem could have been used. One need only read the Exsultet, which overflows with the symbols and imagery of “the Light” that conquers death, and which dispels darkness. Further, the theme of the texts used in the three inner movements is more Trinitarian (Te Deum = God the Father; O nata lux = God the Son; Veni sancte spiritus = God the Holy Spirit). Unfortunately, their importance and strength is reduced to the occurrence of the word “light” in their verse. That being said, the texts are not what the ear remembers in this work; it is the music. The words are merely the vehicle for the vocalists. »

30 Mar 2005

Gassmann's A Gas

Florian Leopold Gassmann must have been a gas. There is nothing funny about his other 21 operas but L’Opera Seria is a scream. Everything is lampooned, from squabbling stage mammas to brainless tenors. We know little about the piece’s 1769 premiere, but the audience at Vienna’s Burgtheater must have hyperventilated. »

30 Mar 2005

Aprile Millo in Philadelphia

NEW YORK – Few cosmic mistakes have ever been so glaring: Soprano Aprile Millo, who embodies the traditional operatic values that Philadelphians hold dear, hasn’t sung here in nearly 20 years. »

29 Mar 2005

VERDI: Falstaff

Years ago I remember reading a commentary on Verdi by a respected critic — Conrad L. Osborne — to the effect that most of early Verdi could have been written by Donizetti except for the first great success, Nabucco, that could have been written by Rossini. If one accepts that proposal, it would mean that Rossinian operas bracketed Verdi’s career, for surely Falstaff, at the very end, reflects the energy, elegance, joyousness and sophistication of Rossini from one end to the other. »

29 Mar 2005

Maria Callas — Living and Dying for Art and Love

The legend of Maria Callas has transcended her death, and after more than twenty five years, titans of opera still proclaim her the ultimate Diva: artist, actress, musician, lover and woman. Iambic Productions and BBC’s 2004 DVD, Maria Callas: Living and Dying for Art and Love, is a fascinating look at the life of Callas from the perspective of her final role and performance at Covent Garden, Tosca. »

29 Mar 2005

Three Renderings of Faust in New York

Knowledge and the unknowable are the keys needed to unlock the 19th-century perception of the Faust myth. The modern idea of a deal with the devil for financial or carnal supremacy is completely irrelevant, and speaks volumes about the difference between 20th-century thought and that of its antecedents. In breaking free of the restrictions of formalism and established religion, however, the Romantics in literature incorporated some cautions of their own. »

29 Mar 2005

Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans in Washington

WASHINGTON, March 27 – “The Maid of Orleans” was to have been Tchaikovsky’s international coming-out party. The Russian landscapes of his previous operas were left behind. His subject would be Joan of Arc. Tragic romance and history would circle each other in the grand French tradition of Meyerbeer. »

29 Mar 2005

Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Barbican

Like any masterpiece, Bach’s St Matthew Passion can be approached in different ways. Interpretations have varied from austere meditations on the crucifixion to music dramas of almost tragic implacability. Richard Hickox’s Good Friday performance with the City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Singers veered towards the latter, presenting us with an almost operatic experience, characterised by wide emotional fluctuations rather than contemplative homogeneity. »

29 Mar 2005

More Degradation from Calixto Bieito

Rape, alcohol abuse, lesbianism and gratuitous violence: these are the themes of both Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, as Calixto Bieito sees it. Odd. They were also the themes of the last opera he staged. And the one before. Can it be coincidence or did Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Mozart and Verdi all write operas featuring fisting? »

28 Mar 2005

BEETHOVEN: Fidelio

I grew up during the Age of LP and compared with CD’s the size had its disadvantages but there were some distinct gains as well, especially in the field of artwork. Collectors may have the same set on CD but they will rarely separate from those glorious RCA-Soria recordings like Carmen (Price, Corelli) or Otello (Vickers, Gobbi) with their lavish booklets. Though there are no colour photographs in this set under review I nevertheless was reminded of those old glories. This 4Cd-set is so wonderfully packed and designed into what looks like a small hard cover book that just paging in it gives one already some joy. Of course, neither performance is a great discovery for the collector. The Böhm-set already appeared twice on LP and twice on CD. The Furtwängler only has one LP- and one CD-reissue, which is quite understandable as the conductor led exactly the same cast the same year for a commercial recording on HMV (3 LP’s) and with all spoken dialogues cut as if producer Legge didn’t trust the singers to speak their lines. At the time he was not alone in this false belief. The next commercial Fidelio (Fricsay) came out on DG with actors for the dialogues; an even more ridiculous solution as one could clearly hear the differences in timbre between actors and singers. »

28 Mar 2005

WEAVER & PUCCINI: The Puccini Companion

If any opera lover feels daunted by the many biographies and analytical tomes dedicated to the life and art of Giacomo Puccini, Norton has done that reader a tremendous favor with the publication of The Puccini Companion. Tightly organized, this series of essays details the life, discusses the operas, and provides a wealth of supplementary information about the composer. »

28 Mar 2005

SALAZAR: Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora

Sacred music from the Spanish Baroque deserves to be held up next to the finest Italian examples of the same period. Equally celebratory in nature, the music written for use in Catholic Vespers services on this recording is an example of the mixed concertante style developed in Venice. While not as monumental as Claudio Monteverdi’s conglomerate Vespers of 1610, the Vísperas Completas de Nuestra Señora by Juan Garcia de Salazar (1639-1710) contrasts polyphonic and homophonic choruses with plainchant, monody, instrumental pieces, and organ improvisation. »

28 Mar 2005

BACH: St. John's Passion

The explosion of research into the music of J. S. Bach allows for innumerable interpretations of his works. Scholars meticulously study the musical source material, letters and writings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and anything else that could possibly lead to an insight into Bach’s musical practice. Invariably, each interpreter achieves new conclusions and raises new questions forming their own distinctive ideal. In the last decade and a half, the dialogue over Bach’s choral music has been particularly active and fierce with proponents of massive romantic proportions and those who prefer single singers and instrumentalists on a part. »

28 Mar 2005

Krassimira Stoyanova at the Rousse Festival

Her occasional home-coming always turns into a music event in her native Bulgaria. This time Krassimira Stoyanova appeared at the Rousse March Music days in a recital including twenty melodies and songs by opera composers: Gounod, Donizetti, Puccini in the first part and Tchaikovsky and Rahmaninov in the second plus two “encores” by Bulgarian composers Dobri Hristov and Liubomir Pipkov. She performed this same recital at Carnegie Hall on January 18, 2005, accompanied by Yelena Kurdina. »

28 Mar 2005

Chicago's Ring

Ringheads, rejoice! The end of the world is nigh. So, for that matter, are the flying Valkyries, swimming Rhinemaidens, spinning Norns, fearless heroes, empowered heroines and all the other mythic characters that make Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”) the greatest, most monumental fairy tale ever composed. »

28 Mar 2005

Offenbach's Whittington

Here is a splendid curiosity – a three-act operetta by Offenbach, written as the 1874 Christmas panto blockbuster for the famous Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square and never subsequently staged in its original form. All credit to the tirelessly exploratory semi-professional University College Opera for its worthwhile revival. »

28 Mar 2005

Mozart's C Minor Mass Reconstructed

“Die spart (Partitur, Anm.) von der hälfte einer Messe, welche noch in der besten hoffnung da liegt”, erwähnt Mozart 1783 in einem Brief an seinen Vater. Bei der Hoffnung sollte es bleiben: Sein rätselhaftes Gelöbnis, die c-Moll-Messe zu vollenden, hat Mozart nicht gehalten. Das ehrgeizige Projekt einer umfangreichen Kantatenmesse im Stile von Bachs Schwesterwerk in h-Moll blieb ein Torso. Nur Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus und Benedictus hat Mozart abgeschlossen, nicht alles davon ist jedoch in zweifelsfreier Form erhalten. Vom zentralen Credo existieren gar nur zwei Sätze, noch dazu voller offensichtlicher Instrumentationslücken. »

26 Mar 2005

Surprises at Wigmore Hall

Susan Bullock is widely regarded as the finest dramatic soprano to have emerged in the UK for some years. She is an exceptional Wagnerian and many would question why she is not singing Brünnhilde in one of the Rings-in-progress at Covent Garden or English National Opera, particularly since she is already established as an interpreter of the role abroad. »

26 Mar 2005

Leaving the "Audience Clamoring for More"

Handel had his troubles with sopranos as people. There’s a story that he once grew so enraged he tried to throw one of his divas out the window. On the other hand, no composer has written more knowledgeably and lovingly for the soprano voice than Handel did. »

26 Mar 2005

Rape of Lucretia

NO BETTER time than Easter to plead the cause of Benjamin Britten’s chamber opera. Forged in the same white fire of creative energy as Peter Grimes, Lucretia can remain problematic because of the apparent moralising of the framing Chorus. But watching this play of passion in a week of Passions certainly put things into context. »

26 Mar 2005

A Delicate Drama at Merkin Hall

When opera singers reach a certain level of fame and stature, they almost invariably express the desire to present song recitals as well. Often the problem is that they have little training in this specialized art and too much practice in their own stylistic niche. As a result, many highly publicized evenings at Carnegie or Alice Tully turn out to be woeful disappointments, proving only the lack of adaptability of many of our best singers. »

25 Mar 2005

Handel's Sosarme at Theater St. Gallen

Mit noblem Herrschergestus rückt der feine junge Herr im weissen Anzug fürs Schlusstableau die Opernwirklichkeit zurecht. Unvermittelt angeschmachtet von der Liebsten und scheinbar ohne Rücksicht auf den eben ausgefochtenen tragischen Höhepunkt des Familienzwists, von dem hier im Heldenton einer Opera Seria drei Stunden lang die Rede war, darf Fernando alias Sosarme die Totgeglaubten wieder aufrichten und dann, ganz cleverer Familientherapeut, die Sache mit einer zeitgeistigen Aufstellung zu Ende bringen. »