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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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20 Mar 2005

Madama Butterfly at New York City Opera

The central image in Mark Lamos’s production of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is a traditional Japanese house, magnified to the size of the New York City Opera stage. With its sliding doors, clean lines and open spaces, this set, designed by Michael Yeargan, is the very picture of clarity. And for Butterfly, everything within it – her life with Pinkerton, then the memory of that life and the promise of its resumption – is entirely clear. It’s the more complicated world outside that has turned murky, and by avoiding the clutter that often accrues to a “Butterfly” staging, Mr. Lamos has emphasized that tragic delusion. »

19 Mar 2005

Parsifal at La Fenice

Une tristesse flottait sur Venise en ce jour de la première de Parsifal à La Fenice, nouvelle production du chef-d’œuvre wagnérien depuis celle de Pier Luigi Pizzi en 1983. Temps instable au-dehors, vent de la révolte à l’intérieur : le syndicat autonome Libersind et les personnels du théâtre appelaient à la grève générale, le mardi 15 mars, pour protester contre leurs conditions de travail. »

17 Mar 2005

Faust at Opéra de Lille

Dans le Faust à l’affiche de l’Opéra de Lille, le véritable diable, c’est le metteur en scène écossais David McVicar. Grâce à son habileté méphistophélique, sa production peut plaire à tout le monde : à ceux qui rêvent de voir l’histoire racontée comme au bon vieux temps, sans relecture conceptuelle, et à ceux qui pensent qu’un tel morceau de patrimoine a besoin du second degré pour ne pas basculer dans le kitsch. Car dès le début de sa mise en scène, l’ironie règne en maître, même si l’on n’en prend conscience qu’à mesure que son bel univers se dérègle. Une loge de l’Opéra de Paris fait face à une tribune d’orgue d’église gothique : nous sommes bel et bien au théâtre, et si Méphisto a effectivement «la plume au chapeau et l’épée au côté», il les réajuste devant un miroir en pied avant de jouer ses tours. Des sortilèges qu’il extrait d’une malle à accessoires, tandis que Faust change d’aspect dans sa loge, face à une coiffeuse éclairée par des ampoules. »

17 Mar 2005

Martin's Golgotha in Vienna

Zuerst viele Jahre lang Schweigen. Dann einige Aufführungen hintereinander: Frank Martins Schicksal ist symptomatisch für die Repertoire-Restriktionen in Wien. Immer dieselben Dinge verkaufen sich. Bei einem Werk wie Martins Passions-Oratorium “Golgotha” verlassen Abonnenten den Goldenen Musikvereinssaal bei erster Satzpausen-Gelegenheit. Die Bereitschaft, sich zur gegebenen Zeit mit anderem als den Bach-Passionen auseinander zu setzen, ist enden wollend. »

17 Mar 2005

Les Travailleurs De La Mer: Ancient songs from a small island

Cast off the shores of Normandy, the tiny isle of Guernsey lies isolated between the two European powers of England and France. Guernsey, however, has remained independent since 1204, and its government, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, comprises the inhabited islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark, Herm, Jethou, Brecqhou and Lihou. Rich in an abundant culture and history, Guernsey is well-known for its sea ports, mystic pagan rituals, potent cider, and poetry. »

16 Mar 2005

Per Questa Bella Mano at the Barbican

You don’t expect absurdity in a concert of Mozart arias and instrumental music, but in bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff’s concert with the period-instrument Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the highlight was a work of Pythonesque weirdness. »

16 Mar 2005

On Tour with William Christie

HOW refreshing, you think, as Les Arts Florissants bounds on stage, to see an early-music combo whose contracts appear to contain no clauses forbidding visits to hairdresser, shoe-shop and dressing-table, no injunctions to wear nothing but sacking and zit cream. How delightful, how French. With William Christie’s band, as Emcee in Cabaret might say, “Even ze orgestra is beaudiful.” »

15 Mar 2005

Carmen with a South African Twist

British director Mark Dornford-May’s daring transposition of Bizet’s opera to a South African township has landed him a major film award – and a new wife. He talks to Jasper Rees »

15 Mar 2005

Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen

Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere. »

13 Mar 2005

Bernstein's On the Town at ENO

IT IS easy to sniff at English National Opera’s decision to stage Leonard Bernstein’s first, unashamedly Broadway musical. Unlike some of his later work it has no “operatic” pretensions. But the Broadway musical was a continuation of opera by other means, and Bernstein maintained to the end of his life that, if opera had a future (which he doubted), it would be intimately tied up with the Broadway idiom that he helped to create. »

13 Mar 2005

Leo Slezak sings arias by Wagner, Verdi and Meyerbeer

Leo Slezak is generally regarded as a German tenor, although he was actually born in what is now the Czech Republic. But, Moravia, where he is from, was Austrian at the time, and had a significant German speaking population, with German the dominant language of the middle and upper classes. He made his debut in Brno (then Brunn), at a time when most opera performances were sung in German, and, to the best of my knowledge, all of his recordings were in that language or Italian (the great majority being in German). He made over 400 records from a wide repertory of German, Italian and French operas, as well as many Lieder and some operetta. His two published discographies list no records from Czech operas. The arias he recorded most frequently include 11 versions each of the Preislied and “Celeste Aida”, nine of the “Ah, fuyez douce image” and seven of the “Roi du ciel” from Le prophète. His stage repertory could probably be divided into four more or less equal parts. Verdi predominated, with 133 performances of Radames, 130 of Otello, 91 of Manrico, and at least 41 of Riccardo. He also sang Ernani and the Duke in Rigoletto. Wagner and grand opera (comprising Elèazar, Raoul, Jean in Le prophète and Assad), were probably tied for second and third, with other composers, including Mozart, Boieldieu, Gounod, Puccini, etc. coming in fourth. His career was largely centered on Vienna, but also included an important stint at the Met, some stays in Brno, Breslau and Berlin during his youth, and guest appearances in many other centers. He has been described as everything from a “Heldentenor” (in many sources) to a large voiced lyric tenor (by Michael Scott, in his books on great singers). I would split the difference, calling him the German equivalent of a French “fort tenor”, who could sing everything from Mozart to the lighter Wagner roles, and did. »

12 Mar 2005

St. Matthew's Passion at Notre Dame

Il existe des appartements où vous ne pouvez brancher à la fois la machine à laver, le téléviseur et le sèche-cheveux sans faire tout disjoncter. C’est un peu l’impression que l’on avait jeudi soir à Notre-Dame, pour la Passion selon saint Matthieu, dirigée par John Nelson. A peine le chef avait-il salué le public, que les projecteurs s’éteignirent soudain. Il fallut une demi-heure pour les rallumer un par un, et lorsqu’à 20 h 33, le dernier spot fut enfin rétabli, le courant sauta derechef ! Ce n’est qu’à 20 h 40 que le grandiose double choeur introductif put faire résonner les colonnes de Notre-Dame. On n’a pu qu’admirer le sang-froid des artistes, restés en scène tout du long, soumis à une pression que certains exorcisaient en plaisantant, d’autres en maintenant leur instrument au chaud ou en se concentrant. »

12 Mar 2005

Something Alien in Baltimore

Nearly a century ago, the great pianist and intriguing composer Ferruccio Busoni declared that the duty of the performer is to liberate music “from the deadness of the printed page and bring it to life again.” »

12 Mar 2005

Stravinsky's The Nightingale in Toronto

If you’re going to attend one Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert this year, make it this one. There’s nothing like leaving Roy Thomson Hall with your feet six inches off the ground — especially when it’s snowing. »

11 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings; Nocturne; Phaedra

A spare and yet splendid masterpiece, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings doesn’t seem to make it into concert halls as often as it deserves. In the recording studio, however, it has fared well. Besides the classic recordings from the composer and his partner Peter Pears, esteemed versions from Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, Robert Tear, Ian Bostridge, and others have a place in the catalogue. »

11 Mar 2005

Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Mariinsky

The new production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale Of Tsar Saltan, which premiered at the Mariinsky Theater on Tuesday, is like a happy child’s dream: placid, multi-colored, entertaining – and it has a happy ending. »

11 Mar 2005

Cav and Pag in Cardiff

The Mascagni and Leoncavallo double bill was the very first staging ever undertaken by Welsh National Opera in 1946 and sentiment decreed that it should be played in the company’s inaugural season at its new home. Elijah Moshinsky’s production was created for WNO’s jubilee and has done sterling duty. It has proved a glorious vehicle for both chorus and orchestra. And the moment when the battered truck that brings Pagliaccio’s touring troupe on to the stage is emblematic. »

10 Mar 2005

Bernstein's Candide in New York

Anna Christy plays Cunegonde in NYC Opera’s ‘Candide.’ Monty Python fans waiting for “Spamalot” tickets can warm up happily at “Candide,” City Opera’s spring season opener at Lincoln Center. »

10 Mar 2005

KÁLMÁN: Die Csárdásfürstin

Emmerich Kálmán’s name may be familiar primarily to music lovers d’un certain âge, but between the world wars his operettas were as popular as those of Léhar and Strauss on both sides of the Atlantic. Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy [or Czardas] Princess), which premiered in Vienna in 1915, is his best known, and for good reason. Its book by Leo Stein and Béla Jenbach sparkles and delights, but with reversals of fortune that leave the audience wondering until the last minute how love’s complications will be resolved. The Budapest-born Kálmán (1882–1953; his fellow composition students included Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály) apparently was weaned on his homeland’s melodies and czardas, which he mixes generously with Austrian waltzes to create a glorious portrait of the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The piece played the New Amsterdam Theater in New York in 1917 as The Riviera Girl, with a new book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse and added numbers by Jerome Kern. »