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The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Boesch and Martineau Schubert Complete Songs, Wigmore Hall, London

The Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert Songs series of 40 concerts began with a recital by Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson. (Read my review here). If anything, though, the second concert, where Boesch was accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, was even better. The programme was beautifully planned, and the performance exceptional, even by the very high standards of the Wigmore Hall.

Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - ENO London

It took artistic courage to choose Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtensk to start the ENO's 2015-2016 season. Shostakovich isn't an easy sell, and so full of sex and violence that some minds - like Josef Stalin - would be aghast. But Mark Wigglesworth is passionate about Shostakovich , and as new Music Director of the ENO, he's making a point. Good opera needs artistic vision.

Berg Wozzeck Fabio Luisi Zurich Opera

Zurich Opera brought Alban Berg Wozzeck to the Royal Festival Hall, London . Fabio Luisi conducted Philharmonia Zurich and a very good cast in a concert performance. With all pretence at staging removed (apart from natural good acting) we could focus on the sheer musical audacity of Berg's writing, and pick up on the processes the music employs to create the drama.

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Sondra Radvanovsky Stars in the Title Role of Anna Bolena

The First of Three Donizetti Queens She Will Sing at the Met This Season

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

For Odyssey Opera, No Operatic Challenge is Too Great

For a company founded in 2013, Odyssey Opera has an astounding track record. To take on Korngold’s Die tote Stadt is ambitious enough, but to do so within only a year of the company’s founding seems almost single-minded.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.



05 Oct 2015

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.  »

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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. »

01 May 2005

Figaro at the Beach

Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” set in a chic apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte’’ played out in a trendy club complete with burly, stone-faced doormen and a sleek VIP room. Chicago Opera Theater has had some smashing successes with stage director Diane Paulus’ contemporary take on centuries-old operas. She is back this spring, teamed once again with conductor Jane ver, her colleague on four previous COT productions, for a fresh look at another Mozart opera, the bittersweet “The Marriage of Figaro.’’ A “Figaro’’ set in Miami’s South Beach, anyone? »

29 Apr 2005

Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège

Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I’d love to hear Angelica’s second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent ( nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly. »

29 Apr 2005

Giovanna d’Arco at Antwerp

The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81 year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators’ support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpasses) Pappano’s former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera. »

29 Apr 2005

The Bartered Bride at Julliard

In the dark before the lights came up, the stage looked like a set for “Oklahoma!,” down to the dozing cowpoke. The rising lights revealed the object that had looked like a windmill to be a maypole and the setting to be Czech, yet the “Oklahoma!” resemblance didn’t altogether fade. Bedrich Smetana’s opera “The Bartered Bride” has a whiff of an American musical to its simple sweet story (boy loves girl, boy figures out how to get together with girl) and pretty tunes, and the Juilliard Opera Center’s production, which opened on Wednesday, brought out the similarities. »

29 Apr 2005

Upshaw in Downtown Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall

A few seconds into Dawn Upshaw’s singing, you decide that the most important thing is purity of tone – honest, solid, unadorned tone – and Upshaw has it in spades. »

29 Apr 2005

Bo Skovhus at Wigmore Hall

We don’t hear Bo Skovhus in the UK as much as we should. One of today’s great singers, the handsome Danish baritone is both a star and something of a sex symbol on the European mainland, although his work has been inexplicably undervalued by British opera companies and concert managements. »

28 Apr 2005

Tales of Hoffmann at Baltimore

Looking for an escape—from reality? The Baltimore Opera Company has just the ticket. Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) is not called an “opera fantastique” for nothing. »

28 Apr 2005

HANDEL: Rodelinda

There was a time, not so long ago, when Handel was a rare bird on the video shelves of opera shops and record retailers, but it seems that with the advent of the slim ‘n sexy DVD disc, and (in Europe at least) a more flexible attitude to rights issues between record companies and opera houses, that those days are now, happily, past. The latest offering from Farao Classics is the 3 year old Munich Staatsoper production of his “Rodelinda” with staging by David Alden, music direction by Ivor Bolton, first given at their Festival in 2003. I’m not entirely sure why certain operas get chosen for DVD release and others don’t, and this one is a bit of a puzzle for several reasons. »

28 Apr 2005

LARSEN: love lies bleeding — Songs by Libby Larsen.

This CD, entitled "Love Lies Bleeding," is a companion to the fascinating recording by the same soprano and pianist, entitled "With All My Soul" (The Orchard 6003). »