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Elsewhere

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

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?


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Reviews

27 Jul 2014

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.  »

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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. »

08 Mar 2005

Ring des Nibelungen at the Wiener Staatsoper

An der Wiener Staatsoper ist Wagners “Ring des Nibelungen” derzeit in der Inszenierung von Adolf Dresen zu sehen – das nächste Mal am 12., 17., 24. April und am 1. Mai unter der musikalischen Leitung der Australierin Simone Young. Wer der altbacken und teilweise lächerlich wirkenden Produktion überdrüssig ist, muss bis 2007 warten: Am 2. Dezember hat Sven-Eric Bechtolfs Neuproduktion der “Walküre” in Wien Premiere, am Pult steht Franz Welser-Möst. Die beiden sind ein eingespieltes Team. Bis 2009 wird der Regisseur, der am Burgtheater den “Reigen”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” und “Leonce und Lena” inszeniert hat, auch die drei anderen Teile der Tetralogie in Szene setzen. Zu seinem Konzept wollte er noch nicht viel verraten. Er sehe Wotan aber nicht “mit Aktenkoffer” über die Bühne wandern und kann sich auch Walhall “nicht als Großraumbüro” vorstellen. Bechtolf spielte damit auf die heftig gescholtene Bayreuther Ring-Inszenierung von Jürgen Flimm an, die im August 2004 das letzte Mal über die Bühne gegangen war. »

08 Mar 2005

Die Walküre at Covent Garden

Any production of Wagner’s Ring cycle needs some kind of coherence, so it is logical for a staging of Die Walküre to continue where the previous instalment, Das Rheingold, left off. In the case of the Royal Opera’s new production, though, that turns out to be not such a good thing at all. »

08 Mar 2005

BRITTEN: Canticles I–V, The Heart of the Matter

Benjamin Britten is usually thought of as a musical dramatist on a large, operatic scale, but the instinct (or perhaps the inner necessity) to capture psychological conflict in music burst through in his smaller musical forms as well. His five canticles (not to be confused with the church parables) mirror Britten’s artistic growth in his operas and other large-scale works from the late 1940s until shortly before his death. »

08 Mar 2005

The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen

This last in the contributions of Anonymous 4 to the performance of medieval music is a selection of thematically related texts – most by Hildegard von Bingen – dealing with a spiritual or religious fire. Those renditions of traditional hymns, such as “Veni Creator Spiritus” and “Veni Spiritus eternorum alme,” are interspersed with works of Hildegard’s composition. Some of these are based on her prose visions, e.g. “Et ego homo non calens,” identified topically as “The fire of creation,” a depiction of which is also used for the cover illustration. The prose texts are provided with musical adaptations of plainsong by Anonymous 4. “The fire of creation” was performed using plainchant, and Hildegard’s vision “The fiery spirit” was adapted to a two-voice lection tone from Christmas matins of Polish origin. »

08 Mar 2005

VERDI: Les Vêpres Siciliennes

In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi revised his opera I Lombardi alla prima crociata (1843) into a work for the Parisian stage. This “new” composition, featuring extensive plot changes, new music, and the requisite ballet, is considered better than the original upon which it was based. A reverse fate awaited Verdi’s next work for Paris, the grand opéra Les Vêpres Siciliennes, which premiered at the Opéra in 1855. Although it was performed there, with minor changes, until 1863, attempts to get the work past censors in Italy failed, for tales of successful revolutions simply were not permitted on the Risorgimento stage. After a poor translation of the opera entitled Giovanna de Guzman made the circuits, Verdi revisited the score in 1856, and, removing the ballet, created I vespri sicilani. This inferior version, which employs much of Giovanna de Guzman’s text, is unfortunately the one that has remained in the repertory. »

08 Mar 2005

Handel's Il trionfo at the Barbican

GROUCHO MARX once quipped: “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Bizarrely, that flashed through my mind as I was gripped, ravished and finally moved to tears by this early Handel oratorio. Here was George Frideric before he became, if not a virgin, then something even more pious: the stately, sedate cheerleader for the Hanoverian dynasty. »

07 Mar 2005

EVERETT: The Musical — A Research and Information Guide

Much current popular culture assumes that its audience is knowledgeable of the American musical. References to, and parodies of, specific musicals are frequently a part of episodes of The Simpsons and South Park, and ads for companies as diverse as The Gap and the World Wrestling Entertainment promotion recently have restaged numbers from West Side Story to plug their products or events. Rarely, if ever, are the sources acknowledged; it is simply taken for granted that a general audience will understand the quotations and parodies. »

07 Mar 2005

STRAUSS: Die Fledermaus

Film freezes time and even serves to transport an enrapt viewer into its temporal world. Viewers of the recent DVD release of a December 1980 performance of Strauss’ operetta classic, Die Fledermaus, may not be quite as ecstatic as the local audience, but resistance is futile. Have some champagne ready for the curtain calls. Lovers of this art form will rejoice, and even the operetta-resistant (of which your reviewer is one) must succumb to the energy, star power, and sheer good will of all involved. »

07 Mar 2005

New Music in Boston

The Fromm Music Foundation has been a resident at Harvard for 32 years, commissioning new works and underwriting new-music activity in several venues, including Tanglewood. »

07 Mar 2005

Don Carlo at the Met

“Don Carlo” is Verdi’s “Hamlet.” It’s always an event when the Metropolitan Opera brings back John Dexter’s striking 1979 production of this long, complex, musically profound and psychologically perceptive work, based on Schiller’s play about the indecisive young crown prince Don Carlo and his brutish father, Philip II of Spain, during the madness that was the Inquisition. »

07 Mar 2005

Harnoncourt's Poppea in London

PRACTICALLY my first assignment as a cub critic was to review Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Zurich Opera’s production of The Coronation of Poppea. That was in 1978, but I still recall the elation I felt at hearing this great Baroque pioneer sweep centuries of dust from Monteverdi’s masterpiece. »

07 Mar 2005

Manon Lescaut in Essen

Essen. Es ist keine Sternstunde für das erfolgsverwöhnte Essener Aalto-Theater. Warum Generalmusikdirektor Stefan Soltesz Giacomo Puccinis Jugendwerk “Manon Lescaut” ins Programm hob, ist rätselhaft. Denn es liegt mit der gleichnamigen Oper des französischen Komponisten Jules Massenet ein qualitativ weitaus anspruchsvolleres Werk vor. Und hätte er den Mut zur Gegenwart gehabt, hätte sich Hans-Werner Henzes “Boulevard Solitude” angeboten. Ob dies erklärt, dass Soltesz bei der Premiere gleich der 1. Akt zum verhetzten Parforce-Ritt missriet? Immerhin wusste er im weiteren Verlauf den Essener Philharmonikern doch noch die feineren Harmonien zu entlocken, an denen es hier ja nun nicht völlig mangelt. »

06 Mar 2005

A Minimalist Entführung aus dem Serail

Die zwei Pärchen in Mozarts “Entführung aus dem Serail” haben ohnehin genug Schwierigkeiten zu überwinden, bis sie endlich auf ihrem Schinakel gen Westen fahren dürfen. Vor dem mutigen Versuch des “Letzten Erfreulichen Operntheaters”, das Singspiel nur mit Klavier, Oboe und Flöte instrumentiert auf ihre Kellerbühne zu stellen, türmte sich bei der zweiten Vorstellung ein weiteres Hindernis auf: die Grippe-bedingte Absage des Osmin-Darstellers. Gerade aus dem dadurch nötigen Provisorium erwuchsen dem Abend aber die besten Momente. »

06 Mar 2005

A Preview of Un ballo in maschera in Kansas City

In the resonant, garishly lighted basement of Trinity United Methodist Church, art is imitating life. »

06 Mar 2005

Nozze in Baltimore

Human beings will always be good for a laugh, especially when they’re in full pursuit of sex. »

06 Mar 2005

PUCCINI: La Bohème

Even for a jaded reviewer like this one who has seen innumerable Bohème’s all over the world, there comes a moment in the third act when music and production simply take precedence over intellectual curiosity: the old magic works again and one is moved by the fate of these youngsters. High praise indeed for the famous Zeffirelli-production, born in 1963 at La Scala together with a juicy scandal when Di Stefano was ousted and replaced by Gianni Raimondi. »

06 Mar 2005

Fidelio at Carnegie Hall

Beethoven’s “Fidelio” is an opera about freedom that is shackled by a limited libretto. A great performance can unlock its treasures. A mediocre one can feel like prison, as the Collegiate Chorale’s performance on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall underlined. It was a long and murky night, although there were many glints of bright light that tantalizingly shone through. »

05 Mar 2005

ZEMLINSKY: Une Tragédie Florentine

The operas of the Austrian composer Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) continue to fascinate audiences with their combination of carefully composed music and well-selected librettos. After using fairy-tale elements in his early operas, such as Sarema (1897), Es war einmal (1900), and Der Traumgörge (1905-6), Zemlinsky turned to Renaissance settings for Eine florentinische Tragödie (1917) and Der Zwerg (1922). In fact, Zemlinsky’s Florentinische Tragödie is based the dramatic fragment A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde, whose works intrigued other composers of the time. Beyond the provocative drama Salome set by Richard Strauss, Franz Schreker used a story by Wilde as the basis for his ballet Die Geburtstag der Infantin (1908). »

05 Mar 2005

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder

Schoenberg for lovers. Sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact there is enough passion in the too seldom heard Gurrelieder to make even Valentine blush. We know Schoenberg largely from the atonal and dodecaphonic later works (and most listeners know of these mostly by inaccurate rumor). But we forget all too often the fact that Schoenberg had an early period, much of which is readily accessible to conservative tastes. Gurrelieder is the sort of diamond in the crown of this period, a long cantata-like adventure, some two hours in full. Scored for an enormous orchestra, four choirs, and speaker, and five soloists, the work is the logical conclusion of the nineteenth-century penchant for Texas-style excess when it comes to orchestration: you can’t get any bigger than this without havin’ to build a second story. »

04 Mar 2005

Stiffelio at Sarasota Opera

SARASOTA — Many operas are all about the music, but in “Stiffelio” composer Giuseppe Verdi paid a lot more attention than usual to the words. »

04 Mar 2005

Ravel and Poulenc at the Barbican

On paper, Ravel’s mock-Spanish “comédie musicale” (1904) and Poulenc’s mock-everything “opéra bouffe” (1944) should make a toothsome double bill. Less than an hour each, elegantly funny in quite different veins – and excellent for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for no heroic voices are required. But the team’s Ravel proved a lame affair, and its Poulenc – sung in English, with the same director (Stephen Langridge) and conductor – a delight. »